Audio post: KL on Bruins organizational rankings, 3 prospect assessments, Hlinka-Gretzky Cup & more

Zachary Senyshyn of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

(Photo courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

As the summer winds down, figured an audio post to cover more ground than a typical written narrative is the way to go.

In this 60+ minute audio segment, TSP weighs in on some of the Boston Bruins organizational rankings and why it’s a fool’s errand to put much stock in any of them . We also do a three-year on B’s prospects, looking at Ryan Donato, Zach Senyshyn and Jakub Lauko. Plus, we talk about the recently completed Hlinka-Gretzky Cup, the annual first real jump into the NHL draft tracking process. It’s sure looking like the late 2000/2001 birth year is shaping up to be a pretty good draft class!

Enough of the intro- here’s the file.

 

Bruins prospect of the week: Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson

Going to start a new feature here on the blog until the season gets underway by taking a snapshot of the various prospects in the Boston Bruins pipeline by providing analysis and updates on the players and what we think their NHL future might resemble.

First up, is 2015 2nd-round selection Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, center; aka- JFK.

Hope you enjoy, will try to post these every Sunday/Monday to help get us through the rest of the offseason.

***

JFK

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka “JFK”

Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, C

6-1/190 Shoots: Right

Background summary

The native of Linkoping, Sweden played two years of junior hockey in the USHL with a team that’s near and dear to my heart- the Omaha Lancers. JFK was the 45th overall pick, one of three selections acquired from the Calgary Flames for Dougie Hamilton (Zach Senyshyn and Jeremy Lauzon round out the trio).

Since 2000, only three players drafted directly by NHL teams out of Omaha have been selected higher than JFK: Louis Leblanc (18-2009/MTL); Nick Petrecki (28- 2007/SJS) & Patrick Wiercoch (42- 2008/OTT) out of a total of 27 players (BU forward Patrick Harper– NSH/2016 and Minnesota-Duluth freshman Noah Cates- PHI/2017 are listed under their high school teams but both finished their respective draft seasons with Omaha and are rolled into the count). As far as the Omaha Lancers go, JFK has a pretty solid NHL draft pedigree, with 110 career USHL games (26 goals, 86 points).

Here’s a JFK highlight video posted by the USHL right before the 2015 draft, most of you have no doubt seen it, but for those who haven’t…

After two seasons at Boston University (78-24-39-63), JFK turned pro with the B’s making his NHL debut on the last day of the 2017 regular season, a loss to the Washington Capitals. Thus far, it is the young pivot’s only big league action, but he had a solid rookie pro season in Providence of the AHL, playing in 58 games 15-17-32 line and a goal in four playoff contests. He was sidelined by a concussion this season, which forced him out of 20+ games and given a concussion history, this will be something to keep an eye on.

Talent analysis

JFK is a cerebral two-way center. He was knocked in his younger years for lacking pace/urgency in his game, but this is an area he’s showed improvement in since early 2014. He’s strong in the faceoff circle and has excellent vision/hockey sense as a forward who is reliable across all 200 feet of the ice surface. While he’s not a burner in the open ice, he’s quick and agile, often reading and processing plays to get a step on defenders to gain time, space and separation.

Forsbacka Karlsson is not what you would call a classic top-2 line forward, but he projects as a quintessential third-line pivot who has the potential to play up or down the lineup in pinch. He has an excellent stick- able to make on-target passes from either side of the blade and has shown that he can find the back of the net in bunches, even if he is not all that consistent a goal scorer when compared to others in the system.

He’s a natural penalty killer, but doesn’t look to be on track to see much power play time at the highest level (at least not for a while), though he does have the head and hands to be able make good use of the added time and space the man advantage affords.

The biggest area of concern for JFK has to do with his injury history (two significant concussions) and a lean frame which is probably not going to see much more mass packed on as he nears the end of his physical growth cycle.

JFK isn’t a dynamic player- you have to watch him to appreciate the details of his game. But, he’s where he needs to be and is able to speed up and slow down the pace when he’s in the middle of the ice and making the play flow through him. If you expect an electrifying center who will bring you out of your seat on every shift, he’s not it. He is, however, highly effective in the middle of the ice, which is where most games are won and lost.

2018-19 Projection

Entering the third year of his entry-level contract, the expectation is that the Bruins would like to see him make a case for the third-line center position, but don’t expect them to force the issue. He showed signs of being up to the task last year with Providence and was developing nicely until the injury setback.

If he doesn’t win a spot on the third or even fourth line in Boston coming out of camp, he’ll go back down I-95 to Providence, where he should be able to score at around a point-per-game pace and would likely be on a very short list of callups if the need arises.

However, given how hard Boston worked to get him to leave school in spring of 2017, the thinking here is that he’ll be given ample opportunity to earn an NHL job in October. If he doesn’t, then it will be interesting to see what comes next in his development.

JFK factoids

Turns 22 on Halloween.

Both parents are lawyers in Sweden.

JFK and fellow Bruin Ryan Donato teamed up in Ralston, Nebraska for a very brief time, as Donato joined the Lancers after he and Dexter Southfield came up short in the New England prep school championship to Salisbury School Crimson Knights in 2015. Unfortunately for Omaha, JFK took a head shot in their first game together in the Lancers lineup and he ended up missing the final 10 games of the regular season and USHL playoffs.

What’s next for the Bruins (Pt. 9): Rounding out the forwards

Ryan Donato

(Ryan Donato, Boston’s 2nd-round selection in 2014 NHL Entry Draft )

We’re going to close out the forwards portion of our “What’s Next” for the Boston Bruins series with this entry on the prospects we didn’t cover in the two previous posts on the subject. These are players who are either unsigned (NCAA) or out of Europe. Some are closer to making a possible impact (Anders Bjork) than others (Ryan Donato), but this more proof that the B’s have a lot of options within their organization, and that doesn’t include the next talent boost, with the 2017 NHL Entry Draft about five weeks away.

So, in the spirit of the previous post- here’s a list of the players we think are going to not only challenge for NHL jobs sooner than later, but will also make an impact:

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Bruins prospects update: Beanpot Trophy goes to Harvard, Donato shines with highlight reel goal

The 65th Beanpot championship is in the books and for the first time since 1993, a team not named Boston College or Boston University has won it, with the Harvard Crimson grabbing the trophy Monday night at the TD Garden.

 

 The game between Harvard and the BU Terriers featured four Bruins prospects, and for the BU guys, it was an obviously disappointing night as the team sought a record 31st Beanpot title.

 

 The championship’s outcome was not so much about Charlie McAvoy or Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson playing poorly (though neither had particularly strong performances) as it was about Harvard rising up and then Ryan Donato putting an exclamation point on the win with a great individual effort. Teammate and 2013 fifth-round project pick Wiley Sherman is enjoying a solid junior season in Cambridge as well.

 

 With 16 goals in 25 games including 5 in his last two, Donato is starting to show the hockey world the sheer offensive acumen that saw him drafted in the second round after David Pastrnak in 2014. As a junior with Dexter, he potted nearly 3 points per game and rode that to a 56th overall selection in Philadelphia. Now, Donato is taking his game to another level as a sophomore after a solid freshman campaign. He began to really put things together at the end of the 2014-15 season when he finished the year (after Dexter lost the 2015 prep championship to Salisbury) out in Nebraska with JFK and the USHL’s Omaha Lancers. Lancer fans still talk about how impressive Donato was in his short time there and rue the fact that he wasn’t able to spend the whole season on that club.

 

 He’s got elite offensive hockey sense with tremendous hands and a will to compete and win.  Last year about this time, TSP interviewed Donato after losing in the 2016 Beanpot tourney and the soon-to-be 21-year-old declared that the Crimson would be back in 2017, and that winning one for the first time since just after his dad left the team to join the U.S. Olympic squad and then the Bruins at the conclusion of the 1992 Albertville Winter Games was something he was determined to achieve.  Donato’s third period goal is worth watching over and over, because it shows that determination that is easy to talk about in an interview, but harder to pull off when the game is on the line.

Here’s the full highlight reel from the game courtesy of NESN, but the Donato goal comes at 5:45 for those only interested in that play: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izboCRird3A

 

 There is also no need to rush Donato into the mix. He’s a sophomore and the Bruins can afford to wait another year before signing him, however- there is always a thought about the ticking clock on when he could become an unrestricted free agent. Like Anders Bjork, he will be eligible to sign with any team after August 15, 2018 (though he’s still NCAA-compliant to play through the 2018-19 season if he doesn’t turn pro). However, given his history with the city of Boston and the Bruins, it would be hard to imagine Donato passing up a chance to fulfill his lifelong dream of playing for the Black and Gold.

 

 For now- the Scituate native is one more impressive prospect to keep an eye on.


Amateur Prospects as of 02/15/17


Name/Team

League

GP

G

A

PTS

PIM

Jesse Gabrielle, Prince George

WHL

46

26

21

47

67

Zach Senyshyn, SSM

OHL

45

33

13

46

25

Anders Bjork, Notre Dame

HE-NCAA

29

17

23

40

12

Jakub Zboril, Saint John

QMJHL

35

9

22

31

36

Trent Frederic, Wisconsin

Big10- NCAA

20

10

16

26

24

 

Ryan Donato, Harvard

 

ECAC- NCAA

25

16

10

26

12

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, BU

HE- NCAA

30

11

14

25

26

Ryan Fitzgerald, BC

HE-NCAA

26

7

18

25

36

Cameron Hughes, Wisconsin

 

Big10- NCAA

26

6

19

25

12

Jeremy Lauzon, Rouyn-Noranda

 

QMJHL

24

4

13

17

19

Jack Becker, Sioux Falls

 

USHL

35

10

7

17

30

Charlie McAvoy, BU

HE-NCAA

29

3

13

16

47

Cameron Clarke, Ferris St.

 

WCHA- NCAA

30

1

8

9

24

Wiley Sherman, Harvard

 

ECAC-NCAA

25

0

8

8

16

Ryan Lindgren, Minnesota

 

Big10- NCAA

24

1

4

5

55



 

Pro and European Prospects


Name/Team

League

GP

G

A

PTS

PIM

Peter Cehlarik, Providence

 

AHL

40

18

15

33

12

Joona Koppanen, Ilves Jr.*

U20- Finland

19

9

17

26

2

Danton Heinen, Providence

 

AHL

38

9

17

26

10

Colby Cave, Providence

 

AHL

50

10

16

26

28

Jake DeBrusk, Providence

AHL

48

11

14

25

13

 

Matt Grzelcyk, Providence

 

AHL

44

2

18

20

12

Sean Kuraly, Providence

 

AHL

37

9

8

17

19

Emil Johansson, Djurgarden IF

 

Sweden- Elite

38

6

7

12

22

Colton Hargrove, Providence

 

AHL

41

5

9

14

39

Anton Blidh, Providence

 

AHL

30

7

5

12

22

Chris Casto, Providence

 

AHL

41

1

9

10

28

Noel Acciari, Providence

AHL

18

4

4

8

11

Rob O’Gara, Providence

 

AHL

33

2

6

8

12

Austin Czarnik, Providence#

 

AHL

2

1

2

3

0

Justin Hickman, Providence

 

AHL

21

2

1

3

17

Oskar Steen, Farjestad

 

Sweden- Elite

37

1

1

2

6

Linus Arnesson, Providence*

 

AHL

18

0

1

1

4

Brian Ferlin, Providence*

 

AHL

2

0

0

0

0

Zane McIntyre, Providence

                         Atlanta

 

AHL

ECHL

14

2

11

0

0 (1)

1(1)

1.63

1.99

.944

.931

Dan Vladar, Providence

                    Atlanta

 

AHL

ECHL

6

5

3

2

0 (3)

2 (1)

2.84

3.58

.914

.889

Malcolm Subban, Providence

 

AHL

23

7

10 (1)

2.44

.919


# Czarnik recalled to Boston


*Arnesson, Ferlin injured


 Tyler Randell, Tommy Cross, Alex Grant > age 25- not listed

 

Bruins prospects update 1/30/17: Re-ordering the amateur prospect rankings

We’re one month into the recent publication of the New England Hockey Journal’s annual Boston Bruins prospects ranking- we always do it in January, so we have about half a season to gauge how the kids look before ranking them.

Well, what can we say? There’s already some buyer’s remorse and after conversations with several people we trust and value as professional talent evaluators, we thought we’d take another stab at the B’s top-10 with a fresher perspective. Consider it an alternate take- a sort of Bizarro World version of the published list, with the impact of other ideas and rationales applied to some of the players who rose and fell.

Ultimately, the exercise reminds us all that opinions are varied. No matter how well you might rank order players, you’re never going to achieve 100 percent consensus, and that should not be the goal. You call it like you see it and you either stick to your guns and stand by your convictions or you don’t. At the same time, it is important in a fluid situation such a hockey season, to maintain room to allow your views to evolve.

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Podcasting New England Hockey Journal’s Bruins annual prospects review: Amateur list

McAvoy1

TSP did this last year, so bringing it back for the 2017 version of the New England Hockey Journal’s Boston Bruins organizational prospect rankings.

You can read the full article at http://www.hockeyjournal.com; a top-20 is broken into a pair of pro and amateur lists. This podcast covers the non-pro futures, plus the HM 11th player who didn’t get an in-print capsule, but is a very good prospect for the B’s down the road.

Want to know who we’re talking about to the tune of about a 45-minute breakdown? Just click on the audio file to listen…

Frederic1

Trent Frederic was Boston’s 2nd choice, 29th overall, in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft

 

2016-17 Boston Bruins preview series: the Centers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka "JFK"

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka “JFK”

 

 

 

Vesey officially on the open market- let the free agent Kabuki dance begin

In 2008, University of Minnesota forward Blake Wheeler opted to forego his senior year, but in so doing, decided not to sign with the Phoenix Coyotes, who drafted him fifth overall four years earlier.  Wheeler leveraged a provision in the previous (2005) collective bargaining agreement and signed instead with the Boston Bruins, eventually getting traded to the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets, where he has become one of that franchise’s more productive players over the past several seasons. Twitter wasn’t as big then, nor did the Wheeler courtship last as long, so at least in one regard, the difference between then and the hype machine surrounding Harvard graduate Jimmy Vesey is significant.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Vesey, who received the 2016 Hobey Baker Award one year after being the runner-up to Jack Eichel, is now an unrestricted free agent after passing on the chance to sign with the Nashville Predators, who drafted him 66th overall in 2012. There could be myriad reasons why Vesey spurned the Music City, but only he and those closest to him know his true motivations behind doing so. The Buffalo Sabres had multiple third-round picks in the 2016 draft, so they flipped one to the Preds for the chance to convince Vesey to forego free agency altogether and sign with them. Sabres GM Tim Murray gave it his best shot, but when you consider that the North Reading native has come this far for the right to choose his NHL destination, Murray and Co. simply weren’t going to get him to bite, no matter how compelling the sales job.

Now, some 50 days after the Sabres acquired his exclusive negotiating rights, and per the NHL’s (2013) CBA, Vesey can now talk to any NHL club who desires his services. Here are highlights, compliments of Harvard:

This is not a loophole. The 23-year-old is not engaging in any underhanded activity, as much as some out there who don’t apparently understand how collective bargaining works would like to (and of course want to convince others of the righteousness of their own ignorance) believe.

Is it unseemly? That depends on what your definition of that is, but in our free market society, Vesey is taking advantage of his immense talent for hockey while also doing something very few NHL prospects these days get to: determine his own professional hockey destination.

Some out there feel he “owed” it to Nashville to just sign with them and report just like any other draft pick, but that position assumes that we know all of what was happening behind the scenes. We obviously don’t, and there is no requirement for any of these players to come to terms with the teams that draft them. Vesey incurred risk by staying in school and not taking Nashville’s original offer to bring him out in the spring of 2015 after netting north of 30 goals for the Crimson as college hockey’s second-best offensive talent after Eichel. Graduating from Harvard was important to him, and at some point, even after he had talked on the record about signing in Nashville, something changed and he didn’t.

Vesey is not the only player to do this and he won’t be the last. However, by virtue of the ever growing groundswell of social media in the information age, Vesey is a high-profile player…arguably the highest coming off of a Hobey Baker-winning season. No one else who has come before him carries that kind of cachet, but even with the NCAA success (56 goals, 104 points in 70 games in the past two seasons), there is no guarantee he will make the same kind of impact in the NHL. However, when you factor in his skill, hockey IQ and accomplishments to date, plenty of teams are willing to roll the dice.

Two years ago, Chicago Blackhawks prospect Kevin Hayes, he of hockey Clan Hayes of Dorchester, decided not to sign with the team that made him a first-round pick in 2010, and after multiple teams courted him, settled on the New York Rangers. That decision cost him a Stanley Cup, as the ‘Hawks went on to capture their third championship in six years some 10 months after Hayes leveraged his CBA right to be a free agent.

It happens. And it also underscores that different things motivate these players beyond money or opportunity. If winning were the only thing that mattered, Hayes would have signed with Chicago. This points out the folly of anyone who is sure that Vesey will do the same simply because Chicago brain-trustees Stan Bowman and Joel Quenneville personally attended some of his summer league hockey games in Foxboro.

At the same time, to believe that Vesey is a done deal to Boston simply because he grew up there and was a Bruins fan as a kid is equally foolish.

What it likely will come down to is which team Vesey feels the biggest connection to. It could very easily be a team like Chicago. Or Boston. Or Buffalo, who according to several sources, are in a nice spot with him, having given him a good faith pitch while benefiting from the behind-the-scenes work done by former Boston hockey rival and now summer liney and pal Eichel.

Vesey could be won over by the Rangers, who because of their success in wooing Hayes after stealthily pursuing him in 2014, are always going to be name players in the NHL’s version of the Game of Thrones– free agency (albeit much less dramatic). Rangers GM Jeff Gorton is a Boston-area guy and he’s got people like Gordie Clark who do well in the recruiting department (both are longtime former members of the Boston Bruins front office/scouting staff). Don’t underestimate the power of Broadway.

The New Jersey Devils are another team emerging as a favorite to get him; GM Ray Shero has added some impressive forward talent to his club over the past two seasons, and the Newark-based club can overcome the negative pull of the playing digs with some solid selling of recent drafts. Hero’s right-hand man,Tom Fitzgerald, has a direct connection to the Vesey family as well.

Then of course there are the Toronto Maple Leafs- they’re sure to be in the mix, too. How much, is up for debate as making the money work might be an issue for them, but Vesey’s father and brother are both in the Leafs organization. When it comes to family, that’s a big selling point for just about anyone.

Finally, I wouldn’t count out a club like the Philadelphia Flyers being in on the Vesey sweeps. Ron Hextall is an aggressive GM who has his team on the rise, as their late-season surge to K.O. the Bruins on the final weekend of the 2016 NHL season can attest. Think the Flyers couldn’t use a plug-and-play LW with Vesey’s upside? Think again. It wouldn’t surprise in the least to see a club come out of left field to land him, and Philly is my dark horse to do it. (EDIT- So, Philly was not in on the Vesey sweeps. Surprising, but another keystone state team- the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins- did meet with him on 8/16. The Penguins were not a club linked to Vesey much since his decision in March not to sign with Nashville, but it makes sense and they might be the ones who sneak in and spirit him away. We’ll see. – KL)

In circling back to the Bruins, there are plenty of reasons to think that they could end up landing the prize. Refuting some reports out there, a source close to the Vesey camp said that  he hasn’t ruled the Bruins out.  On the contrary- the B’s and GM Don Sweeney are in prime position to show him how serious they are. Will Sweeney’s Harvard credentials and the connection he has with Vesey’s representation help? It just might. Getting Vesey is key not just because he’s a talent the team has coveted for years, but because he also opens up trade options to assist Sweeney in landing an upgrade on defense. It’s not a zero-sum game- the Bruins will likely have to move on a defenseman via trade at some point, but Vesey in the fold means flexibility and an ability to be able to give up pieces of value to land the defenseman the Bruins want.

It’s a delicate balance, but Boston has a real opportunity here. When they come to the table, it may or may not be enough to convince him, but you can bet that they’ll try. They, too, have connections- assistant amateur scouting chief Scott Fitzgerald (Tom’s brother) and close friends like Matt Grzelcyk, Ryan Fitzgerald, Harvard teammates Ryan Donato and Wiley Sherman to name a few.  It’s just a shame that they didn’t draft him in 2011 when they had the chance to get him in the sixth round. Or even 2012- when they could have spent the 24th overall choice on him in lieu of Malcolm Subban. The opportunities were there, and one can only wonder if Vesey will remind them of that fact when they meet.

Ultimately, though- only young Vesey himself and those few solidly inside his inner circle truly know what is motivating him here and what things will matter most to him when he meets with the suitors today and tomorrow. We may or may not find out the truth once the final decision is made, probably no earlier than Friday depending on how loose lips are around the camp.

Many are no doubt ready for it all to be over so we can move on to the next thing (World Cup of Hockey, anyone?), none more than Vesey and his family.

For the one NHL club that will gain a valuable asset and one who has shown the kind of promise to make this pursuit worthwhile, that relief should be more than palpable. Sure- there is no guarantee that Vesey will be the NHL performer many believe he can, but if you’ve been paying attention to his profound growth over the past several seasons, you know better than to bet against him.

RyDo n’ the (Sherman) Tank- B’s find promise in Harvard duo

Ryan Donato

Ryan Donato and Wiley Sherman are both Boston Bruins prospects. But first and foremost, they’re teammates and friends on the Harvard University Crimson.

The two bear a striking contrast in style and stature, but when it comes to substance- both made quite an impression this week at the recently concluded NHL development camp in Wilmington, Mass.

Donato is more of a hot shot prospect than Sherman is. He’s the coach’s kid at Cambridge- a man who knows firsthand what his son is going through. Nearly 30 years ago, Ted Donato was a high school superstar at legendary Catholic Memorial, a Hyde Park native drafted by his hometown Bruins in 1987. He stayed home and went on to win an NCAA title at Harvard (the school’s only championship) in 1989, played for the U.S. Olympic team after graduating in 1991, and joined the Bruins in the spring of 1992. Little Ryan came along four years later, and in 2014, the B’s made Ted and Jeannine Donato’s eldest of four children their second-round selection (56th overall).

If Ryan was born into this Boston hockey legacy, then Sherman comes via a different path and has been much more unheralded in his development. A native of Greenwich, Conn. who like most kids from that region of New England, owes his childhood sports allegiances to New York and the Rangers in particular, Sherman didn’t grow up around the FleetCenter and TDGarden the way Donato has. Nonetheless, a product of the Hotchkiss School Bearcats prep program, Sherman hasn’t found it tough to switch his focus to Boston after coming to the Ivy League two years ago.

“Wiley is a great guy on and off the ice,” Donato told the Scouting Post via text. “Many people don’t realize it- he looks skinny because he’s so tall but he’s actually very strong. He’s probably one of the hardest guys that I’ve ever gone 1-on-1 against.”

The “Sherman tank” is about 6-foot-7 and weighing in around 220 pounds these days. The scary thing is- he’s going to get a lot heavier as he continues his growth and development. Boston’s fifth-round choice in 2013 was immediately identified as a project selection; a raw player whose impressive physical traits and surprisingly smooth and agile skating meant that with ample time and patience, he could make it all the way to the big show one day.

Three years after being drafted in Newark, with one of those seasons spent as a senior back at Hotchkiss, Sherman is a rising junior and coming off a three-goal, 10-point season. With his natural size, reach and effortless skating and footwork, he has a legitimate shot at one day being at the very least, a lower-pairing shutdown player who could be pretty effective if put on the ice with a partner who can also skate and move the puck.

“He’s tough, has a long reach and is quick,” said Donato. “He’s the type of guy who is a hard-nosed player that you hate going against in practice and then is one of your best friends off the ice.”

Not known for his physicality at the prep level, Donato said that Sherman has added some sandpaper to his game since arriving in Cambridge. History has certainly shown that big players don’t have to be bring the pure nastiness and intimidation factor of a Scott Stevens to be effective, so long as they are willing to use their natural size and strength to initiate contact and finish checks/do the hard work along the walls to separate opposition forwards from the puck.

Sherman probably doesn’t get enough credit for his ability to make an effective first pass and he has exhibited an absolute smoke show of a shot from the point, which is not surprising when you consider the kind of power he’s able to generate with his gigantic frame. Offense won’t likely be Sherman’s strong suit if he reaches the NHL, but he’s got potential to chip in with some points when needed. He’s an excellent athlete who also starred in lacrosse while at Hotchkiss and his brother, George, was a college LAX player at Brown as well.

“He always could move for such a huge kid,” an NHL scout for a Western Conference team recently quipped. Fans who were used to seeing Hal Gill lumbering around the ice over the course of 1,000+ NHL games are in for a bit of a treat with this guy. That’s not to say Sherman is assured of reaching the NHL and staying there, but in the right role, he could go on to have prolonged success, even if not in a top-three role.

As far as Donato goes, points at the next level do not seem to be an issue. He tallied 13 goals and 21 points in 32 games in his very first year in college. Those totals included a hat trick, and by the end of the season, the cerebral and skilled playmaking center was skating with a wealth of confidence. Part of that stemmed from being named to Team USA’s World Jr. Championship squad- he earned a bronze medal in Finland and tallied twice against Sweden in that decisive game (along with fellow B’s prospect Anders Bjork).

When Donato played at Dexter School in Brookline under his uncle, Dan Donato, he blossomed as one of the most dominant prep players in the past five years. The elder Donato rightly pointed out that because his nephew was so talented, the competition often game planned around him- doing all they could to stop him and often failing at it. Additionally, Donato was subjected to cheap, even dirty fouls in an effort to goad him into retaliating so he would come off the ice. He showed even then a high level of discipline to not take the bait and hurt his opponents where it mattered: on the scoreboard.

“The first thing you notice about Ryan is that he’s bigger than his dad,” said one New England-based NHL scout who was high on Donato in his draft year and has kept tabs on him since. “He’s not quite the skater Teddy was, but he’s got greater scoring potential because he’s got a great head for the game and just super hands. He’s always creating, always pushing the pace and finding ways to make plays in the offensive end.”

Like Sherman, the B’s drafted Donato with the idea of being patient with him and allowing him to come along on a more deliberate timeline. He played another year of prep at Dexter, sandwiched with junior experience with the South Shore Kings (USPHL) and Omaha Lancers (USHL) prior to attending Harvard. The numbers might have taken a bit of a dip in 2014-15, but Donato showed up to the Crimson ready to play.

“You’re going to hear about Donato just playing for his uncle and dad, nepotism and rah rah rah,” the scout said. “That’s some silly stuff, because whenever he’s been put on the spot, he’s performed. He needed to improve his fitness and conditioning, and he did it. It seems like some go out of their way to knock Ryan because he came out of prep, but he’s done a good job of playing through it and sinking that argument.”

Ryan Donato…or “RyDo” for the 140-character Twitter set if you please…is on the verge of breaking out with the departure of Hobey Baker-winning captain Jimmy Vesey. Who knows? Perhaps Donato will soon see Vesey at a Boston training camp in a few years, perhaps not. You wouldn’t blame him one bit if the Scituate native threw his own hat in the ring with his former Crimson teammate and pride of North Reading to try and convince him to stick closer to home, but with Vesey moving on, Donato is primed for a bigger role in his sophomore year.

And when it comes to big, Sherman is right in the middle of the conversation. Watch for him to log major minutes and much expanded usage in his final two seasons at Harvard.

RyDo and the Sherman tank are eager to take another big step forward, and with the two already having been teammates at the NCAA level, they’d love nothing more than to keep it all going when the time comes to turn pro.

“Great player and even better guy,” Donato said. And if you asked Sherman, the feeling is probably mutual.

ShermanBs

 

 

 

Quick hitter: Bruins d-camp wraps with a 6-5 scrimmage

Truth in lending,  TSP wasn’t in attendance this week at the final Boston Bruins development camp shindig until next July’s event moves to the team’s shiny new facility in Brighton, but based on various inputs I’ve gotten from fans and hockey people in attendance at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington, the organization has some strength in talent coming.

Jake DeBrusk scored the winning goal for team white today in a 6-5 intrasquad 3-on-3 scrimmage, while Danton Heinen and Cameron Hughes each tallied twice for their respective teams as black blew a 5-2 lead to give up four unanswered goals. Other scorers in the scrimmy were Ryan Donato, Cam Clarke, Jesse Gabrielle, Sean Kuraly, Anders Bjork and Jack Becker based on tweets from CSNNE’s Joe Taggerty and the Bruins Twitter account.

Heinen garnered a lot of positive attention in his second B’s development camp (he did not attend in 2014 after being drafted because he was in Denver taking summer classes). He’s  seen time at both left and right wing while at DU and could earn an NHL job at RW coming out of camp and preseason if he isn’t sent down to Providence to start the year. He’s not overly big (but he’s not small either), nor is he an explosive skater (but he’s not slow), but he’s got tremendous hands and hockey IQ/creativity. Heinen is the kind of forward who projects as someone who will eventually play on the top-two lines, but he has enough strength and a 200-foot game to work his way into an NHL lineup on the lower lines the way Brad Marchand did once upon a time.

The British Columbia product’s short-area game is impressive- he does the grunt work and digs pucks out from along the walls and works plays to the net, hitting teammates in prime danger areas or taking it in himself and finishing with a nifty-quick release he can paint corners with. Hype is always something that seems to follow young players around because so many fans want to see the “shiny new toy” in the NHL and don’t want to wait and allow the prospects to gradually develop in the minors first. Honestly- and we really need to wait until September before we get too far ahead of ourselves- if there is a forward who could make a serious run at an NHL job sooner rather than later- it is Heinen. But if he starts the year in Providence and not Boston- that’s all fine, too. He has less than 10 games worth of pro experience under his belt, after all.

DeBrusk also received praise for his scoring in this camp- he did a little of it last year, scoring a memorable goal on a behind-the-back shot that made a lot of highlight reels.  But when it all comes down to it, DeBrusk has been unfairly maligned after being a surprise 14th overall selection a year ago. He’s a skilled left wing with a little bite and jam to his game, and when you add it to his natural knack for finding the back of the net and making plays from the wing, that makes him an attractive asset in Boston’s system.

Jakub Zboril by multiple reports has the look of a player who was drafted in the top-15 last year, and that’s great news. He’s reportedly leaner and sleeker than he looked a year ago, and impressed observers with his skating and hands- which is something that helped him to be drafted before his Saint John teammate Thomas Chabot, a higher-end offensive defenseman (18th overall to Ottawa) in 2015. Now, development camp drills and scrimmages are all fine and well- it’s encouraging to know that a player of Zboril’s ability and potential showed up and impressed- but the real test lies ahead in September, when he’ll need to raise the compete quotient with all of the veterans and play exhibition contests against guys wearing different colors. I’m an optimist by nature, so willing to take a positive outlook on Zboril going forward, but I refuse to get excited about development camp- I did that with Jared Knight and Ryan Button once upon a time and learned an important lesson about the dangers of putting too much stock in drills and internal scrimmages. Players don’t make teams on the strength of what they do in July, but a good showing can go a long way towards setting expectations in the fall, so good on Zboril for demonstrating some fire and hunger. It’s something we need to see more of from him, not less.

As for top pick Charlie McAvoy, the rising BU sophomore did everything he needed and then some- if anyone had questions about his status as a first-round pick in June or his intriguing NHL potential, he reportedly answered those. He’s thick through the torso and trunk, but is such a smooth skater with excellent vision and puck skills. He’s a rock and very tough to separate from the puck- McAvoy could be on the verge of breaking out big time this coming season when coaches David Quinn, Albie O’Connell and Scott Young hand him the keys to the big red Ferrari that could be the 2016-17 Boston University Terriers and turn him loose. No pressure or anything, kid- but everyone is quickly figuring out why the Bruins were so smitten with the Long Island native, and the hype around him is legit.

Even 2014 7th-round defenseman Emil Johansson is getting some love for his skill and poise. Interesting and a positive development for sure, but again- remember what I said earlier about not putting more stock in development camp showings than is warranted. It’s nice that he came into Wilmington this week and impressed- he’ll be one to follow with Djurgarden of the SHL this season, but let’s pump the brakes a bit before we bring out another shiny toy here. It sounds like he’s given the B’s plenty of reasons to sign him, so we’ll see where it all leads. I’ve only seen Johansson on film, so my perspective is limited, but have never been that overly impressed with his reads and the way he processes the game, but from the sounds of it, he was very good at handling the F1 and F2 pressure this week and getting the puck out quickly and decisively. Every NHL team needs defenders who can do that from the top of their rotation to the bottom.

In net, the goalies never get a lot of love in these development camps because they tend to get exposed more than the position players do. Daniel Vladar got a lot of positive reviews for his size, athletic ability and good positional work- he was coached last year by Peter Mannino, former Denver University standout who had cups of NHL coffee with the NY Islanders, Atlanta Thrashers and Winnipeg Jets before finishing out a minors career and joining the Chicago Steel. Vladar is a nice kid- impossible to root against and according to Mark Divver, there will be no QMJHL for him this year. He’s expected to play in the ECHL (don’t rule the AHL out completely) or possibly play in Europe somewhere.

There’s so much to talk about and many other players who did well and stood out, but I wasn’t there, so will add some links by those who were present and close the book on Boston’s 10th annual development camp.

 

UPDATE 7/16- As promised, here are some links to stories and features associated with Bruins development camp:

First up is Mike Sage’s (Puck Sage) blog top-10 player rundown from the week. I first met him back in 2010 development camp, and his thoughtful hockey blog goes against the grain. Mike just calls things as he sees them, which is refreshing, because there is so much of a tendency to fall in line with a few voices out there, but he is always someone who has challenged some of the conventional views out there. Besides- he and I are kindred spirits when it comes to what we value in our players, so you’ll find us agreeing more often than not. He gives college players like Ryan Donato, Anders Bjork, Danton Heinen and the very intriguing Wiley Sherman very high marks for their showings this week.

Bruins Development Camp Top 10 Performers

I missed this nugget from Joe Haggerty on Thursday. Good food for thought especially on Anders Bjork– he’s that Swiss Army knife kind of player that the B’s treasure on the lower lines, but with his speed and unexpected sophomore offense, he could end up being much, much more. Boston may need to sign him soon so as not to risk losing him as a free agent in 2018. As a fifth-round pick, he stands to make a lot of coin (and by that I mean not only the max AAV on an ELC, but with added performance bonuses that can boost the contract value and pay him closer to a first-round pick than what Boston would ideally want to slot him with based on existing salary structure) on the open market if his game keeps progressing and he opts to stay at Notre Dame all four years. The Bjork situation is one to watch- as a Wisconsin product who plays his NCAA hockey in Indiana, he has no real attachment to the Boston area, and you might see the B’s have to offer him a perk such as letting him burn a year off his ELC to get him to forego the path to free agency. We’ll see, but a lot of it will depend on how well he plays as a junior with the Fighting Irish.

http://www.csnne.com/gallery/boston-bruins/Bruins-Development-Camp-Day-3-Thoughts-and-observations

Friend DJ Bean had a nice piece on the growing pool of quality young defensemen in Boston’s system. Outside of possibly a Brandon Carlo, and/or perhaps Rob O’Gara (who wasn’t at d-camp) and Matt Grzelcyk (who was) the odds of a Jakub Zboril or Jeremy Lauzon and Charlie McAvoy contributing to Boston’s fortunes this year are pretty long. That’s not to say it is outside the realm of possibility that should McAvoy have a tremendous season on Comm. Ave that the B’s won’t sign him in the late spring and he could get some NHL games in like Torey Krug did at the end of 2011-12, but I wouldn’t count on it. Bottom line, though- the organization is putting together a pretty strong group of prospects on the blue line that could be arguably in the top third of teams around the NHL. For all the love the Dallas Stars get these days, go look at their D prospects cupboard and tell me you’re impressed with those players as a whole. Unless you’re a delusional Stars fan, you’re grudgingly concede that the Bruins have quietly assembled a promising cohort, which gets some extra credit when you throw Sherman, Ryan Lindgren and Emil Johansson in there (not to mention forgotten 2013 2nd-rounder Linus Arnesson and even undrafted Chris Casto, who could get a look in Boston this year, too).

http://www.weei.com/sports/boston/hockey/bruins/dj-bean/2016/07/16/prices-young-defensemen-steep-bruins-trying-develop-n

Here’s some of the video clips the team itself produced:

Development Camp recap:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/bruins-devcamp-recap/t-277437088/c-44387103

B’s futures do community relations:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/bruins-devcamp-community-events/t-277437088/c-44384403

Matt Grzelcyk weighs in:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/bruins-devcamp-community-events/t-277437088/c-44384403

Ryan Fitzgerald discusses having a chip on his shoulder as one of the more unheralded prospects in the system:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/locker-room-raw-ryan-fitzgerald/t-277437088/c-44381603

The Baby B’s take a trip to Fenway Park:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/bruins-devcamp-fenway-park/t-277437088/c-44381503

Ryan Lindgren talks about his first day at camp and friendship with fellow 2016 draft pick Trent Frederic among other things:

https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/bruins-devcamp-fenway-park/t-277437088/c-44381503

Jake DeBrusk discusses the difference between last camp to this one and his progress- you can see how bright and likable a guy he is from his answers: https://www.nhl.com/bruins/video/locker-room-raw-jake-debrusk/t-277437088/c-44381303

B’s correspondent Eric Russo has more on Brandon Carlo, who is a hot name heading into the fall along with Danton Heinen, as members of the youth movement who will push for NHL jobs this year. We’ll see how they look in September, but am told both impressed the team’s brass in Wilmington and that’s where it all starts:

http://bruins.nhl.com/club/blogpost.htm?id=47225