Bruins prospect update 3/15/17: JFK on a roll- what’s next? Lindgren done, Koppanen top Finland Jr. player & Fitzy update too

JFK

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka “JFK”

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka “JFK” earned his second consecutive Hockey East player of the week honor after his BU Terriers defeated reigning HEA champs- the Northeastern Huskies- over the weekend. He shared the honor with BC’s Austin Cangelosi, scoring the opening goal in the clinching 3-2 win Sunday, while assisting on the other two, culminating in a Chad Krys-winning strike with about 25 seconds left in regulation.

Breaking news alert- We’re hearing via a reliable NHL source that JFK turning pro after the NCAA season wraps is close- (EDIT- we’re going to take a step back and soften the language since the source is not JFK- we were wrong to write the post with such definitive language and for that we apologize to JFK and- K.L.)  The BU sophomore is leaning towards signing with Boston at the conclusion of his final sophomore year contest. While he’s not a dynamic player who will grab you, JFK’s game is all about the details- he does everything well and coaches love having him because of the high trust factor. That’s not to say that he grabs you with blistering speed or pace on every shift, but for those who are students of the game, JFK needs no explaining- he just gets it. And, you win with players like him in your lineup at any level. We’re not sure if he’ll play in Boston right away or sign an ATO to finish the year in Providence, but we do feel strongly that JFK’s Boston debut is not that far off, regardless of how things play out in the immediate timeline.

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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

 

Boston Bruins prospect roundup #1: Frederic, Hughes lead Sunday hit parade; Bjork & Gabrielle en fuego

The Boston College Eagles and Wisconsin Badgers Sunday tilt (the teams split the weekend series in Madison after Wisco triumphed Friday night) featured three Boston Bruins prospects and all of them made an impact in BC’s 8-5 win in what was a highly entertaining game.

The larger story for the Bruins is that the reports of freshman center Trent Frederic’s unworthiness as a first-round pick may have been greatly exaggerated, as he currently leads the Badgers in scoring with six points in four games, posting a goal and three helpers in the Sunday loss. Full disclosure- your TSP founder was one of the critics of the selection, admittedly not seeing much top-six NHL forward potential at the U18 championship last April (and this despite Frederic getting a hat trick in one of the round robin games vs. Latvia). Red Line Report had Frederic outside the top-100 and didn’t see him as much more than a fringe fourth-liner, but the perception began to change when talking to former coaches and players who knew him better than any of the talent evaluators who buried him in the rankings.

There’s much hockey left in the season, but Frederic certainly appears to be silencing the critics in the early going.

Here’s what to like about him (film study of two games): Long, powerful stride gets him up the ice quickly…smart and patient; handles the puck well and makes good decisions in where he moves it. Creative. Uses his big frame to drive the net and is effective around the net.

Frederic has an aggressive offensive mindset- more than I (and others) gave him credit for. On JD Greenway’s first collegiate goal to tie the game (after BC had taken a 2-0 lead) in the second period, Frederic led a 3-on-1 that materialized quickly in the neutral zone because he jumped on a loose puck and caught the BC defense flat-footed. Granted, it was a 3-on-1 advantage, but Frederic showed an immense amount of patience to let Greenway drive to the far post before putting a perfect pass on his blade for the easy score. This apple came after Frederic had tallied to get the Badgers on the board, and he would add two more assists as the home team got within a goal of the Eagles after going down 6-2 at one point in the second period.

But Frederic wasn’t only Wisconsin Badger who turned heads in a losing effort Sunday…

Cameron Hughes, who was drafted by the B’s in the 2015 draft’s sixth round scored as pretty (and filthy) a goal you will see late in the second period to make it a 6-3 game when he wheeled back after a turnover in the high slot of the BC zone got him the puck alone in front of Eagles netminder (and Leafs 2016 third-rounder) Joe Woll. Hughes pulled the puck behind him and through his legs and then roofed the shot up under the crossbar. Forget it…just see the play for yourself and then imagine trying to do that at top speed as Hughes did.

The Alberta native is in position to break out in his junior season after some growing pains as a freshman and sophomore. Always ultra-talented, Hughes arrived in Madison at an alleged 140-150 pounds as a freshman and he wore down pretty early, according to one source close to the Badgers program. As a result, where he was once thought of as a top-60 prospect for the 2015 NHL draft, he fell all the way down to the mid-sixth round where Boston pounced. It’s looking like a solid value pick for the B’s in hindsight- Hughes is more of a passer/playmaker but that goal will be replayed over and over, and shows a deft finishing touch that the 19-year-old hasn’t gotten much credit for.

Not to be forgotten in the game was BC senior and alternate captain Ryan Fitzgerald, who was visible with his energy and two-way play and tallied a late empty-net goal by outworking his opponents on the back wall and then beating everyone to the front of the vacated cage. That play is what makes the 2013 fourth-rounder such an effective three-zone presence for the Eagles. He scored the goal through sheer will and hustle, and that it came via an empty net should not diminish the impact of the play itself.

Anders Bjork and Jesse Gabrielle have begun the season like gangbusters for their respective teams/leagues. It’s funny, because Bjork (5th round) and Gabrielle (4th round) weren’t drafted in the top-100 picks in 2014 and 2015, and yet they’ve been two of Boston’s most productive prospects over the past full season and about a month into the new campaign. It isn’t just about giving the team and scouts credit- give a lot to the two guys who took the later selection as motivation and have both put in the work off the ice to make sure the on-ice performance translates. If I’m Don Sweeney, I’d better get hot on signing both of these players. Bjork will have to play out his NCAA season first, but Gabrielle has between now and June 1 to come to terms- he’s done enough to earn that NHL entry-level pact in our view.

On the pro side, it’s been a disappointing start for the Providence Bruins, but not altogether unexpected when you consider that they’re without Frank Vatrano (though he likely would’ve made the Bruins out of camp), Alexander Khokhlachev (KHL), Seth Griffith (lost on waivers to Toronto) and a couple of key youngsters in Austin Czarnik and Danton Heinen (both in Boston) plus Brandon Carlo and Rob O’Gara on defense (also in Boston). We expect to see one or more of those latter names back at some point, but give goalie Zane McIntyre a lot of credit- he’s gotten off to a great start after his final 2016 start left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. He’s outplayed Malcolm Subban by a wide margin…some of it is Subban’s fault, but the team has some holes, so there are going to be some bumps in the road this season.

Bruins Amateur (NCAA/major junior/junior) Prospects as of 10/17/2016

Name/Team League GP G A PTS PIM
Anders Bjork, Notre Dame HE-NCAA 4 5 5 10 2
Jesse Gabrielle, Prince George WHL 6 5 4 9 6
Trent Frederic, Wisconsin Big10- NCAA 4 2 4 6 2
Jakub Zboril, Saint John QMJHL 6 2 3 5 2
Zach Senyshyn, SSM OHL 5 4 0 4 8
Cameron Hughes, Wisconsin Big10- NCAA 4 1 3 4 4
Jeremy Lauzon, Rouyn-Noranda* QMJHL 2 1 2 3 0
Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, BU HE- NCAA 3 1 2 3 2
Ryan Fitzgerald, BC HE-NCAA 4 1 2 3 2
Jack Becker, Sioux Falls USHL 7 2 1 3 6
Charlie McAvoy, BU HE-NCAA 3 0 2 2 0
Ryan Lindgren, Minnesota Big10- NCAA 2 0 0 0 0
Cameron Clarke, Ferris St. WCHA- NCAA 4 0 0 0 2
Ryan Donato, Harvard** ECAC- NCAA 0 0 0 0 0
Wiley Sherman, Harvard** ECAC-NCAA 0 0 0 0 0

* Jeremy Lauzon out indefinitely (UBI/concussion)

** ECAC regular season begins November 4, 2016

 

Pro and European Prospects as of 10/17/16

Name/Team League GP G A PTS PIM
Joona Koppanen, Ilves Jr. U20- Finland 11 7 9 16 2
Emil Johansson, Djurgarden IF Sweden- Elite 7 0 2 2 6
Colton Hargrove, Providence AHL 2 1 0 1 0
Colby Cave, Providence AHL 3 1 0 1 4
Matt Grzelcyk, Providence AHL 3 0 1 1 2
Linus Arnesson, Providence AHL 3 0 1 1 0
Anton Blidh, Providence AHL 3 0 1 1 0
Jake DeBrusk, Providence AHL 3 0 1 1 2
Oskar Steen, Farjestad BK Sweden- Elite 8 1 0 1 4
Sean Kuraly, Providence AHL 3 0 0 0 7
Justin Hickman, Providence AHL 3 0 0 0 15
Chris Casto, Providence AHL 3 0 0 0 2
Zane McIntyre, Providence AHL 2 1 0 0.57 .969
Malcolm Subban, Providence AHL 2 0 2 4.18 .857
Dan Vladar, Providence AHL 0 0 0 0.00 .000
Peter Cehlarik, Providence* AHL 0 0 0 0 0
Brian Ferlin, Providence* AHL 0 0 0 0 0

* Peter Cehlarik and Brian Ferlin- injured

2016-17 Boston Bruins preview series part 3: the Left Wings

Brad Marchand is the team's top LW period. End of story. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Brad Marchand is the team’s top LW period. End of story. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Scouting Post is back with another attempt to break down what we might see unfold during the 2016-17 NHL campaign as it pertains to the Boston Bruins.

This time, we’re hitting the left wingers, and it all starts with Brad Marchand– the lil’ ball of hate & straw that stirs the goal-scoring drink for the B’s. He’s entering a contract year after coming off a career season, and I’ll break him down in detail for you in the accompanying podcast, so no real need to say more.

Frank Vatrano is the player we have high hopes for in making it as the second-line LW in Boston this year. The Springfield Rifle is talented enough to do it, but it will entail accepting risk on the part of Claude Julien and Co. Can the East Longmeadow native be trusted to shoulder the load- TSP is confident he can. His impressive AHL rookie season was just the tip of the iceberg- Vatrano has the skill and moxie to make it work as a top-6 NHL forward.

On the third line, Matt Beleskey is the guy, though I do go into more about his value contract-wise and what he means to the B’s. I’m sold on Beleskey for the myriad little things he does on and off the ice, but I won’t argue with those who feel that the team isn’t getting enough bang for the buck on his deal. Ultimately, they could do much worse, but if he can improve on his 15 goals and 37 points from a year ago, that would be welcome news indeed.

The fourth line is pretty wide open, and my guess is that Tim Schaller has the inside track. The Merrimack, N.H. native has the size and enough big league ability to be a capable bookend along with Riley Nash over on the right side. He’s listed as a center, but if he’s not going to play in the middle, LW makes a lot of sense for the former undrafted free agent out of Buffalo.

Zac Rinaldo…we hardly knew ye! Well, he’s still hanging around, but my guess is not for much longer.

That leaves a host of other aspiring young players vying for spots on this Boston Bruins club, and I run through just about all of them- from the young pros like Colton Hargrove and Anton Blidh, to new blood AHL options like Jake DeBrusk and Peter Cehlarik. Jesse Gabrielle will be fighting (literally?) to make an impression, and he looked jacked (in a good way) when I saw him in Buffalo for draft weekend. When he’s playing like someone possessed, opponents need to keep their heads on a swivel…he can wreck it on the scoreboard and on the physical side. He’ll have his hands full trying to win a spot on this NHL team given the lack of options the B’s have, but watch for Gabrielle to open up some eyes this month- he took a major step forward last year.

Ryan Fitzgerald isn’t there because he’s entering his senior year at Boston College, but he’s a Swiss Army Knife kind of pro projected player, and he’s going to do some impressive scoring work up on Chestnut Hill this season after breaking out as a junior.

Let’s not forget a couple of undrafted camp invites in Matt Mistele (I pronounce it for you on the podcast)- a 6th-round pick of the Kings in 2014 who didn’t sign and has been a pretty major disappointment since potting 34 goals in the OHL as a 16-17-year-old prior to his draft year. He’s big and talented, but doesn’t use his size and brings inconsistent effort- sounds like he might just fit right in. Simon Stransky is the other as a WHL player this past season who put up a point-per-game with the Prince Albert Raiders and distinguished himself as a playmaking winger with top hockey sense, yet never got a draft call. Both will get an opportunity to show their potential and earn an NHL contract, but in the podcast- we’ll explain why just signing one or both is not as simple as declaring it a must on Twitter and Bruins internet message boards. There are other undrafted/unsigned/ forwards and rookie defensemen in Boston on an invitational basis for the rookie camp portion, but not going to cover them here.

Thanks for reading and listening…keeping this one short and pithy because the pod comes in at around 50 minutes. Enjoy the Winger intro and the Primus outro.

Jesse Gabrielle has added some mass since draft day and is ready for his 2nd NHL training camp

Jesse Gabrielle has added some mass since draft day and is ready for his 2nd NHL training camp

 

Rangers land second big Boston-area NCAA free agent in Vesey- the aftermath

The Jimmy Vesey saga ended Friday when word leaked out via Bob McKenzie that the North Reading native and Harvard graduate after winning the 2016 Hobey Baker Award, agreed to terms with the New York Rangers.

The decision, made some four-and-a-half months after Vesey declined to sign with the Nashville Predators, who owned his rights after drafting him 66th overall in 2012, was met with disappointment and disgust in some Boston circles, but shouldn’t be all that surprising given some of the warning signs that pointed to the 23-year-old leaning away from choosing his hometown Bruins as one of seven teams he formally met with this week.

Like Kevin Hayes two years ago, the B’s were in the running, but the player decided to play close to home but not with the Boston organization. Not surprisingly, Hayes himself, the younger of two hockey brothers who both played at Boston College, was instrumental in helping to convince Vesey to choose Broadway over Causeway.

For those familiar with this blog and typist, you know that I have had a personal connection with the Vesey family for more than five years, but throughout the process, I purposefully stayed away from trying to leverage that connection for information. In many respects, not really knowing which way Vesey was definitively leaning was refreshing, as it allowed for a shared experience with the vast majority of fans and non-insiders. When the word came down that it was the Rangers, I was hearing it for the first time, and I was also wrong- my own guess was that he would go with the New Jersey Devils because of a personal connection to Tom Fitzgerald, the Devils’ assistant GM. Shows you how much I know…

There are a lot of different views out there on the subject, so these notes are based on my own personal knowledge and insights gained from several conversations over the weekend with NHL insiders who have knowledge of the Vesey situation. This is why I didn’t rush to post something on it Friday or Saturday, as I wanted to get my ducks in a row first. But truth in lending: take my observations with a grain of salt. There is a personal element to it so I am not completely free of bias in all of this, nor do I pass myself off as completely objective here. I am writing an opinion piece, so you have the choice to agree or disagree with any or all of the points made.

  1. My gut feeling is that the Bruins lost their real shot at Vesey five years ago, when they drafted Norwegian goalie Lars Volden in the sixth round. In doing that, they snubbed the Belmont Hill star who had been told by someone in the organization that they liked him and were going to take him. That’s the tragedy in all of this from Boston’s perspective- they *knew* in 2011 that he had some big time potential and recognized it, but at the draft table in St. Paul, they went with someone else and it cost them what could have been a huge success story for their scouting staff. This kind of stuff happens all the time, but when you look at the attention Vesey has received (much of it earned), it’s something the B’s have been kicking themselves over. There is no doubt that had Boston drafted Vesey, he would not have pursued free agency in the manner he did and none of this would have been necessary. That snub motivated Vesey to destroy the EJHL in 2011-12, smashing all major offensive league records, but even then- the B’s could have spent a first-round choice on him over Malcolm Subban, especially since they didn’t have a second-rounder and knew deep down he wouldn’t be there in the late third. In effect, the B’s chose two goaltenders over Vesey- one is a complete washout and the other has yet to deliver on significant promise. It goes to show that scouting future NHL players is more of an art than a science, and projecting stars between the pipes is even more difficult. The B’s didn’t do what they allegedly said they would, and you have to know that Vesey didn’t forget it. When you add in all of the other factors that went into his decision, it’s not surprising. Boston did it to themselves- they had two legitimate shots at really showing Vesey that they wanted him, but didn’t take them. That left the Bruins in the position to ask for him to choose them this week, and all he did was return the favor.
  2. Give Rangers GM Jeff Gorton and his staff credit- they put together a compelling pitch, leveraging New York’s natural draw as a big market destination and myriad celebrities and sports figures associated with the Big Apple to put the finishing touches on a successful pitch. It’s easy to hate the Rangers as a natural extension of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, and given Gorton’s history with the B’s, you know he enjoyed sticking it to Boston on this one, just as was the case with Hayes two years ago. Former Hobey Baker winner and Stanley Cup champion Chris Drury captained the Rangers and is the team,’s developmental guru- he had a major hand in convincing Vesey to sign on in Broadway, and don’t underestimate the lure that someone with Drury’s cachet brings to the process. In the end, there can only be one destination for a player’s services, and everything counts (not necessarily in large amounts as Depeche Mode once sang). While Vesey had close friends like Matt Grzelcyk, Ryan Fitzgerald and Harvard teammate Ryan Donato in the Boston organization, none of them have ever played a professional game with the B’s. Kevin Hayes, on the other hand, is the only close friend of Vesey’s in the NHL- he was able to identify with the signing process, but even more important- Hayes could tell Vesey firsthand what he was in for if he signed with New York. The other NHL teams in the running all brought out some of their biggest stars to try and sway Vesey, but none of them had the powerful personal connection Hayes does…that was big. Game, set and match. Remember- Boston is in some good company- the NHL’s modern dynasty Chicago Blackhawks and defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins were also told “thanks but no thanks” by Vesey. The Rangers might seem like an odd choice to some, but for him, the team was the best fit. Now, time will tell how well he plays there and if he regrets that choice in the long run.
  3. In talking to one key insider, it was pointed out that Vesey has a large family and everyone is in the Boston area. It’s not just about Vesey taking heat during the inevitable times when he might not play as well as he’s capable of or like the human he is, goes into a slump. You have to take into account the effect that the media and fan negativity will have on Vesey’s immediate and extended families. It’s easy to dismiss that when you’re sitting behind a keyboard and have no concept of what it’s like to have your every move scrutinized and thinking about the possibility of rude, socially-stunted strangers accosting you in public to demand to know why your son, brother, nephew or cousin isn’t living up to the lofty expectations the modern information age created. It might sound like a cop out, and I’m sure there is an element of people that will scoff at the notion no matter what. That’s fine- I’m not trying to reach them, but the more fair-minded of those in hockey fandom will get it. “We know everyone,” came a quote via text yesterday. “And in the offseason (Jimmy) can come home and get away from it.” If he had signed in Boston, there would be no escape from the scrutiny of his profession. By going to the Rangers, he can go home to Boston in the summer months and decompress rather than stay in  what could be a crucible of discontent if the B’s fortunes don’t improve. That’s a lot to put on someone’s shoulders, even if there is a case to be made that by embracing the challenge, Vesey truly could have made himself into a legitimate Boston star. It was probably not meant to be, and that’s okay.
  4. It’s unfortunate that there is an element of sour grapes already taking hold and a segment of fans rejected by Vesey are already bringing out the sharp knives. It’s predictable. And lame. Look, the biggest mistake us “mortals” make is in assuming that because we would kill for a chance to play professional hockey for our favorite teams, everyone else should think the way we do. Observations 1 and 3 have already laid out why Boston was not the obvious choice for him, and to be honest- the B’s should be glad they were even in the final running. A more petulant, immature person would have stuck it to them and made a public spectacle of that rejection. Vesey is not that guy, and I think he showed the team respect by giving them a chance. Some might say he “used” them, but I would argue he leveraged every team in the running to determine his final landing spot.That might be what a Harvard degree teaches you, but that’s just me. It would be nice if people could show the same kind of maturity by respecting the decision and not seeking to point fingers or play the blame game. It might be human nature to lash out when things don’t go your way, but take a step back and evaluate your life and priorities. If you spent more time than you should have getting yourself worked up over the idea of Vesey skating in Boston and now feel hurt or betrayed after he chose the Rangers, then there are probably some important things in your life that you are neglecting. To put it another way (Ben Stiller style): It’s just a game, Focker.
  5. What was distasteful to everyone was the amount of attention the whole thing got for as long as it did, and the comparisons to Kevin Durant are valid. This is something Vesey will have to deal with and the best way to put it behind him is to simply go out and prove himself at the NHL level. At the same time, he probably invoked the old Shakespeare “Methinks thou doth protest too much,” when he commented about not enjoying the spotlight. A couple of points- I know Jimmy and believe him on that score: he’s not an attention-seeker. His handlers have more to do with that than anything, but as the player, he’s got to own that this became something that got out of hand. Second- there’s little doubt that deep down, he enjoyed being able to dictate the terms to NHL teams. Remember- all 30 clubs snubbed him in 2011 and 2012. Any one of them could have drafted him before Nashville in the 3rd round in his second year of eligibility. He went from being a kid who was hurt and disappointed at being skipped in his first year (who wouldn’t be?) to someone just about everyone would have gladly taken on their team. It’s human nature to enjoy an element of revenge when the tables are turned. I don’t blame him. Finally, the timing stunk- there just isn’t any hockey news to be had in mid-August and that fed the beast of the media circus surrounding Vesey, especially since he’s the reigning Hobey Baker recipient. Many of us might find the kind of hype surrounding him ridiculous, but this is the world we live in. Had Jonathan Drouin been able to leave Tampa Bay at midseason and become a free agent open to bidders, we likely would have seen the same exact thing. And those Canadian CHL-centric folks who wagged their fingers and tut-tutted at Vesey leveraging his right in the CBA would probably have made the same allowances for a player like Drouin that they seemed unwilling to extend for Vesey. That’s life, but again- you know who you are. Take a step back and be honest with yourself- every team seeks an edge, and Vesey is a good risk to take. We might not like the attention he got, but if it wasn’t him, it would likely be someone else. Besides, it made for an interesting story to follow at least. I’m just glad it’s over and we can now focus on the next big things: the World Cup of Hockey and the start of the new NHL season.

The onus is now on Vesey to go out and prove himself at the NHL level. There will be many out there rooting for him to fail, but he’s done a nice job of silencing the critics so far. Playing for the Rangers will be business as usual for him, and if the past is any indication, he’ll likely build more fans and supporters than detractors.

***

So, where do the Bruins go from here?

They accepted risk in waiting to see what happened with Vesey because by bringing him into the fold, they would have built a bigger war chest with which to make a trade for much-needed defensive help.

That ship has now sailed for Don Sweeney, so he needs to reset and figure out how he can address a very mediocre defensive group (and that’s being charitable at this point). He’s talked about the difficulty of finding the right players in a constricted market where skilled two-way defensemen are at a premium, but as the GM, the fans aren’t interested in that kind of reasoning. They expect action, and so it will be interesting to see what he and the team does between now and the start of rookie camp in about 30 days or before opening night in October.

The Bruins have some impressive young defenders coming down the pipeline via recent drafts, but those kids aren’t realistic options to help the 2016-17 NHL roster, so something has to give. Sweeney needs to find a way to close some deals and get some wins under his belt. Here’s guessing that he might re-open the lines of communication with St. Louis or Anaheim to look at Kevin Shattenkirk or Cam Fowler. 29-year-old free agent Kris Russell has not yet been signed (boy, is THAT ever telling!) and at this point, you have to think that someone will land him, especially if the right money makes his shortcomings easier to swallow. But how much of an upgrade is he on a team like the Bruins? Again, it will come down to contract term and AAV, but that he’s still sitting out and available in mid-August is interesting.

Yes, it would have been easier for Sweeney and staff to make a deal with Vesey on board to free up other assets to be moved, but Boston also has to play the longer game with Brad Marchand headed to unrestricted free agency in July 2017 if the B’s don’t extend him. And let’s face it- they can’t afford *not* to extend him unless they work an unreal trade that the majority of fans can get behind. To lose Marchand in the wake of so many other grievances fans have about the team is as unpleasant an outcome as you can find right now.

The major priority is to improve the defense. You can’t “fix” this group, but Sweeney can build a more sturdier unit than what we saw last season with one move. When you look at the promise of players like Charlie McAvoy and perhaps Brandon Carlo or Rob O’Gara plus others in the next 1-3 years, the defense will improve. However, the status quo in 2016-17 is simply not going to work. Sweeney has to find a way to identify and acquire a bridge player or two.

It won’t be easy, but if it were, then anyone off the street could manage an NHL team to a Stanley Cup championship.

 

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.

2016 Boston Bruins development camp pt. 2: the forwards

Back with the second part of the 2016 Bruins development camp series.

We previewed the goalies and defensemen who will be in Wilmington from July 12-15, and looked back at 10 years of development camps- a tradition that started in Boston during the summer of 2007 with some big names: David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask. Adam McQuaid was there as well.

This post takes a closer look at the 13 forwards who are in town for the event. Ryan Fitzgerald is the “old man” of the group at forward (goalie Zane McIntyre is the organization’s most senior prospect in his seventh camp)- the North Reading native was drafted 120th overall in 2013 and just completed his junior season at Boston College, his finest to date.

2016 Bruins development camp forwards at a glance (2015-16 club in parentheses):

Jack Becker, C/RW (Sioux Falls- USHL): This versatile skater can play the center or wing position and we’ll have to see how Tony Granato opts to use him this season at the University of Wisconsin. Boston’s last choice in 2015 was drafted as a highly raw prospect out of the Minnesota high school (Mahtomedi HS) ranks, where he battled mononucleosis early on to emerge as one of the more impressive power forward prospects at season’s end. At 6-3, 200 pounds, Becker is on the slow boat to Boston as a player who might not ever come close to playing for the big club, but it will be interesting to see how he develops if he can add an extra few steps to his skating and eventually earn a bigger role with the Badgers. He’s likely to have a bit part in his first two years at Madison.

Anders Bjork, RW (University of Notre Dame- NCAA): The 2014 fifth-rounder just completed his sophomore year in South Bend, leading the Fighting Irish in scoring (12 goals, 35 points in as many games). Drafted as more of a grinding/checking presence, the Wisconsin native has shown more of an offensive element than originally projected. Bjork can play either wing and skates with real speed and quickness- his edge control is outstanding, and he drives the net and can also score goals off the rush, catching defenders flat-footed and blowing by them in space. Don’t expect that scoring to continue in the pro ranks, but every team needs capable bottom-six forwards who can chip in with the offense, and with Bjork’s smarts and opportunistic offense, he fits that category nicely. Watch for him to take off even more as a junior, and he might have an outside chance at a contract offer next spring if he puts up another big year on the scoring ledger.

This is pretty sick goal by Bjork in the 2016 WJC bronze medal game…what was I saying about the scoring not continuing at the next level? Wow. Watch the way he goes forehand-backhand then forehand again and roofs it under the crossbar with no room to work. Sniper’s move.

Here’s a nice video from Notre Dame featuring Bjork’s cousin and Fighting Irish alum Erik Condra:

Jake DeBrusk, LW (Swift Current/Red Deer- WHL): It was a good news/bad news season for the 2015 draft’s 14th overall selection. After a quick offensive start in Swift Current, DeBrusk suffered a debilitating injury early in the year that not only shelved him for several weeks, but hindered his play after he returned. He got a reprieve when the Broncos traded him in late December to the Memorial Cup host team Rebels, where he netted a hat trick in one of his first games in Red Deer. Alas, Brent Sutter spent a lot of time tinkering with his lines and DeBrusk’s offense paid the price, as his goal total dropped to half as many as he tallied en route to being a top-15 pick. Still, he stayed with it and raised his production level in the WHL playoffs and at the Memorial Cup, where he looked every bit a first-round prospect. He’s not a dynamic skater, but is quick enough to find open spaces. DeBrusk has excellent hockey sense and will often get the jump on opponents because his anticipation is so instant. With superb hands and the ability to score goals any which way, he’s dangerous with the puck on his stick anywhere in the offensive zone. As a late 1996-born player, DeBrusk can either return to the WHL for his overage season or spend the full year in the AHL with Providence. That decision will likely come down to how he looks at development camp in July and then again at main camp and the NHL’s exhibition play a few months from now. Weekend at Bergy’s put together this highlight clip from DeBrusk’s 2g, 3-pt performance against Calgary in the Memorial Cup:

His dad was a tough customer when he played and that’s not really Jake’s game, but he will drop ’em:

Ryan Donato, C (Harvard University- NCAA): The rising sophomore and second-round pick from 2014 had a strong first collegiate season. The all-time leading scorer for Dexter School in Brookline, Mass. is one of the most creative and skilled offensive prospects in Boston’s system who dominated the prep circuit and then opened some eyes in a limited USHL stint in Omaha at the end of the 2014-15 campaign. He’s bigger than his dad at about 6-1 (he gets his height from his mother’s side of the family) and doesn’t have the same blazing wheels Ted Donato did, but gets an undeserved rap for being an average skater. The younger Donato is highly cerebral and instantly processes the game, often putting himself in position to make a play before it develops. With his slick hands and underrated finishing skills, watch for him to make noise in the ECAC as one of its most dangerous offensive players.

Donato talks USHL after his first game with the Omaha Lancers back in spring 2015:

Ryan Fitzgerald, C (Boston College- NCAA): As the local standout enters his senior year on Chestnut Hill, watch for his scoring numbers to erupt as a bona fide Hobey Baker contender in 2017. Like Donato, Fitzgerald thinks the game at a high level with elite vision and offensive hockey sense. The biggest obstacle for the multiple state championship winner with Malden Catholic is his below average size, but the eldest of Tom (and Kerry) Fitzgerald’s four sons (brother and BC teammate Casey was just drafted by Buffalo with the 86th overall pick in June) is a feisty and gritty player who isn’t afraid to go into the high traffic areas and get his nose dirty. His skating is above average and he’s quick and elusive as opposed to having jets on his feet in the open ice. Fitzgerald is a slasher who is fearless in the way he goes to the net and will take a hit to make the play. He’s often overlooked in the discussion of Bruins forward prospects, but he’s primed for a huge NCAA season and should sign and turn pro in the spring after being a nice value pick for Boston at the end of the fourth round three years ago.

Ryan Fitzgerald’s 2013 NHL combine post-testing interview:

Trent Frederic, C (U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18- USHL): A significant “off the board” selection for Boston at 29th overall in Buffalo, Frederic will get his first opportunity to show Boston brass and the fans in attendance what he’s about. A big (6-2, 205) and athletic center, Frederic played on Team USA’s third line at Grand Forks in the Under-18 tournament after being the second-line pivot for much of the year (Windsor’s Logan Brown took his spot in April). There isn’t much in the way of flash or dynamic offensive ability in the St. Louis native’s game- he skates with a powerful stride but doesn’t have the quickest initial steps or fluid acceleration (though he is fine in a straight line). Frederic can handle the puck well enough, but you aren’t going to see much dangle or ability to score off the rush. Much of Frederic’s offense happens when he crashes the net and bangs in loose rebounds. His physical style- the Wisconsin Badgers recruit finishes his checks and protects the puck well- should translate well at the next level. He got high marks for his character and ability to play well on special teams, along with the way he performs in the faceoff circle. He’s got a big frame that might still be growing, and he gives the Bruins something they lacked in their system at the center position: size and strength. He compares his own playing style to that of childhood hockey idol David Backes, who could be his Boston teammate at some point, and also patterns his play after Detroit grinder Justin Abdelkader. Frederic is more of a banger than a scorer, so he’ll have his work cut out for him to win over those who wanted to see more skill drafted at that late first-round position.

Frederic’s U18 highlights from bigwhite06:

Jesse Gabrielle, LW (Prince George- WHL/Providence- AHL): The stealth bomber of Boston’s prospects… A year ago, Gabrielle was quietly snapped up in the fourth round (105th) and was traded by the Regina Pats to the Cougars in August. When the WHL season began, Gabrielle went off, finishing with 40 goals and impressing with dramatic improvement in his three-zone game. TSP had a chance to briefly speak with Gabrielle in Buffalo, where he was supporting good friend and workout partner Wade Allison (Philadelphia Flyers- 52nd) and the Saskatchewan product looks to be in tremendous physical shape. An abrasive, fast-skating winger who relishes physical contact and doing the work in the greasy, grimy areas of the rink, Gabrielle struck fear into opposing goalies with his laser release and an aggressive, finisher’s mindset. His favorite player is Brad Marchand, and while this blog normally tries to avoid comparisons- a more appropriate NHL player whose style is a better fit for the 19-year-old is two-time Stanley Cup champion (with Chicago) and new Montreal Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw. Gabrielle’s throwback style is tailor-made for Boston, but he would have to make the Bruins roster out of camp or return to the WHL for the full season. Motivated and ready for the physical challenge, if there is one player at this development camp I wouldn’t want to go into a corner against (ever), it’s Gabrielle…he’s not forgotten about his wait at the draft and it showed in his play last season, as he’s a pure buzzsaw but with some legit skill to boot. He just needs to keep raising the bar and forcing his way into the conversation with continued focus and dedication to his craft.

Gabrielle takes on a much bigger, but not as adept fighter in Ondrej Vala:

Danton Heinen, LW/RW (Denver University- NCAA/Providence- AHL): Like Gabrielle, Heinen was also a fourth-round pick (2014) who joined the Boston organization with little fanfare, but who scored 36 goals and 93 points in 81 collegiate games over two seasons with the Pioneers. As reported first at the Scouting Post last March, Heinen relinquished his remaining NCAA eligibility to sign a three-year contract with the Bruins after his team reached the Frozen Four and tallied a pair of assists in his first professional game with Providence. The left-shooting winger played both sides in college and came out of junior hockey (BCHL) as a center, so he brings the kind of versatility that Boston loves. He’s not an elite skater, but gets from point A to B pretty well and surveys the ice like a chess master, often diagramming plays well in advance and making magic from the mundane. His most memorable game last season was a five-point effort against eventual NCAA champion North Dakota, which demonstrated his excellent puck skills and offensive instincts. Although a shade under 6-1, he’s added mass to get up around 190 pounds, and even if he doesn’t make the NHL roster right away, will have every opportunity to be an impact AHL player with the P-Bruins. Heinen projects as a top-six NHL playmaking forward with 30+ goal upside, but also has the natural smarts and versatility to find a spot on the bottom two lines as well.

Cameron Hughes, C (University of Wisconsin- NCAA): Another cerebral, playmaking center- Hughes was a strong value selection in the 2015 draft’s sixth round after entering the season with top-90 hype. The Alberta product is a smooth-skating, slick-passing pivot who can speed the tempo up or slow it down. Unfortunately, he has extremely average size at just about 6-feet in height and a light frame that won’t get much bigger or stronger than he is now at about 170-ish pounds. He showed off some dynamic, high-end scoring potential when he was skating for the AJHL’s Spruce Grove Saints, but had a tough first NCAA season on a terrible Badgers team. He made some key strides as a sophomore, but under a new coach and system, this could be the year that Hughes breaks out. Although not very big, he’s another similar player to Fitzgerald in that he plays with an edge and isn’t afraid to take the puck into high traffic areas, even though he knows he’ll get blown up. Another project player who may or may not even get offered a contract when he exhausts his NCAA eligibility in 2018, Hughes was a good flyer to take so late in a deep draft.

Joona Koppanen, C (Ilves Tampere- Finland Jr.): Massive (6-5) center is more of a clampdown pivot who clogs up the middle and is difficult to play against as opposed to someone with intriguing potential/offensive ceiling. He’s got some athletic ability and agility for one so big, but needs to improve his initial steps and direction change to thrive at the next level. Koppanen is a deft performer at the faceoff dot, where he uses a quick stick and his large body to win key draws, especially ones in his own end. If you’ve got the lead late in a game and are looking to shut the other team down, Koppanen is a guy you want out there. Having said that, he’s not very skilled and at the most, is a long shot to establish himself as an effective fourth-line NHL center one day. Considering where he was taken, the team could have done worse, but there isn’t a great deal here to get excited about, either.

Sean Kuraly, C (Miami University- NCAA): One of two assets that came back to Boston when Don Sweeney flipped goaltender Martin Jones to the San Jose Sharks after the 2015 draft (the Frederic first-rounder was the other piece), the RedHawks captain had a disappointing statistical senior season. His production dropped from 19 goals as a junior to just six in 2016, and he may not ever be more than a third-liner assuming he is able to play his way into the NHL. On the positive side, the Ohio native is a big-bodied forward who can play an effective 200-foot game. He showed flashes of some nifty offensive ability back in 2013, when he was a member of Team USA’s gold medal-winning World Jr. Championship squad, and his 31 goals in sophomore and junior years at Miami mean that he’s not without talent, though he doesn’t possess much in the way of standout skills that would translate into a top-six scoring role at the highest level. He’s a decent skater and will do the grunt work in tight and along the walls, but will likely need to carve a niche for himself in the minors first.

Mark Naclerio, C (Brown University-NCAA/Providence-AHL): The two-year captain for the Brown Bears signed an ATO with Providence last spring after finishing his college career with 100 points. Also a captain at Avon Old Farms, Naclerio was a member of the Winged Beavers’ 2010 prep championship squad. He’s not overly big or skilled, but plays with a lot of heart, energy and opportunism. At AOF, the Milford, Conn. product scored a lot of points off the rush, but became more of a quick-strike player in college, often drifting through defensive layers to pounce on loose pucks or deflect shots in from the outside. He’s on an AHL deal at present, so he’s not technically a Boston prospect, but hard work and productivity with Providence this season could see him earn an NHL deal down the road.

Oskar Steen, RW (Färjestad BK- Sweden): At 5-9, 187 pounds, Boston’s sixth-round pick in 2016 is built like a bowling ball and plays an energetic style despite a lack of high-level talent. Smart and rugged, Steen gets a lot of his points through sheer will and effort- he’s not going to dazzle anyone and how well his ability will translate as he tries to break into the NHL one day is anyone’s guess. He did manage to suit up and play in 17 pro league games for Färjestad BK (6 assists), in his country’s highest pro league, so there’s something to be said for that. At 165th overall, there were worse choices for Boston to make at that spot than Steen, who was said to be current scout and former B’s fan favorite P.J. Axelsson’s desired target at that spot. Axelsson, who was drafted 177th overall in 1995 and went onto to play nearly 800 NHL games, all with Boston, knows a little something about what it takes to make an impression when drafted later on, as does GM Don Sweeney. At this stage, the bottom line for Steen is: why not?

The team announced that due to family, school and travel requirements, BU sophomore Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson will not attend this year’s development camp. Zach Senyshyn, who is also recovering from a bout with mono, also is not expected to participate.

The Bruins released the development camp schedule last week:

BOSTON BRUINS 2016 DEVELOPMENT CAMP SCHEDULE AS OF JULY 6:

(Locations and times are subject to change)

Tuesday, July 12 (Wilmington, MA)

-Off-ice testing (Not open to media), Ristuccia Arena, 9:00 a.m.

-On-ice practice, Ristuccia Arena, 11:00 a.m.

Wednesday, July 13 (Wilmington, MA)

-On-ice practice, Ristuccia Arena, 10:00 a.m.

Thursday, July 14 (Wilmington, MA)

-On-ice practice, Ristuccia Arena, 10:00 a.m.

Friday, July 15 (Wilmington, MA)

-On-ice practice, Ristuccia Arena, 10:00 a.m.

Bruins prospects in their draft years 2013-15

Back with part two of the look at Bruins prospects and how they were projected in their draft seasons by Red Line Report.

In case you missed it, I did this exercise with the 2015-16 NHL Bruins roster here...and part 1- the 2010-12 NHL drafts and B’s prospects and free agents in those draft years are covered here.

And…we’re off:

2013

Ryan Fitzgerald, C Drafted: 120 (4th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 52                    Key comment: “Not big but we like the high hockey IQ and bloodlines.”

Observations: RLR rated him high in 2013, and that might have reflected his standing in the first half of the season with the USPHL’s Valley Jr. Warriors, as he had a downward trend heading into the draft. The nephew of Bruins assistant amateur scouting director Scott Fitzgerald is a gritty, feisty if undersized pivot for Boston College, who is coming off his finest NCAA year as a junior. In similar fashion to Seth Griffith, Fitzgerald’s major knocks are a lack of size and dynamic speed for his stature, but he has terrific hockey sense and a nonstop motor. You have to like his bloodlines- dad Tom Fitzgerald played more than 1,000 games and is Ray Shero’s assistant GM with the New Jersey Devils. Ryan grew up around the game and knows what it takes to be a pro. The Fitzgeralds are hockey royalty in New England, so it looks like the 2013 fourth-rounder will go back to BC for his senior year and then sign in spring 2017 when his eligibility is exhausted.

 

Linus Arnesson, D Drafted: 59  (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 75                       Key comment: “As B.B. King would say- ‘the thrill is gone.'”

Observations: A late 1994-born player, Arnesson likely would have been taken in the late first/early second in 2012, but another year of viewing moved him down in the rankings over a lack of offensive potential. With his size and skating, Arnesson at one time looked like a potential top-2 NHL defenseman who might have some power play chops at the highest level, but as scouts got a longer look at him in an extra 2012-13 campaign, it became more evident that the steady Swede was more of a “safe” and unspectacular positional defensive defenseman than one who joins the rush and has the hands and head to be a presence on the score sheet. The good news for the Bruins is that they didn’t draft Arnesson in the late first round, so getting him at the end of the second was decent value for them. He showed promise at the end of 2014-15, when he came over to finish the season in Providence, but this past year- his first full AHL campaign was a bit of a bust as he battled nagging injuries and rollercoaster play. That’s not to say he doesn’t have a future in the Bruins organization, and as a guy who plays a vanilla game, he could earn a recall at some point if the team needs a solid defensive presence. Having said that, he looks like something the B’s already have in abundance: a 4/5/6 player who provides okay depth but best case would be an unheralded second pairing D who puts up at best 15-20 points a season but works well with a more offense-minded partner. The old adage on defense in hockey says that if a player is doing his job well, you don’t notice him. That appears to be the case with Arnesson, but the Bruins were hoping for more than that when they took him with their top choice three years ago (after giving up their first-rounder to Dallas for Jaromir Jagr).

 

Peter Cehlarik, LW Drafted: 89  (3rd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 111                         Key comment: “Tall & lanky with great hands but feet betray him.”

Observations: This late riser ended up generating some draft buzz and is still an intriguing if oft-forgotten man when it comes to prospect discussions. The Slovak, who has spent the past three seasons playing in Sweden, is a top-six NHL forward dark horse kind of prospect, but he’s also one of those guys who is tough to peg because if he doesn’t make it as a scorer, it’s hard to envision him playing a heavy and responsible enough game to succeed on the third or fourth lines in Boston. His initial first steps are a bit clunky, though with a long, efficient stride, he can work well in open space with good straight line speed. Cehlarik improved his skating from when he was first drafted, but it will never be a strength. He has a quick release that allows him to score goals off the rush- an-instride drive that sometimes handcuffs goalies. He’ll also take the puck in close and shows some pretty fine dangle in getting net minders to open up and commit. Don Sweeney once described the puck coming off his stick as a “slingshot”to me, so there’s that.

 

Wiley Sherman, D   Drafted: 150  (5th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 125                 Key comment: “Getting around him is like circumnavigating the globe.”

Observations: Drafted as an identified project, Sherman is similar to O’Gara in that he has a lot of developing to do. The Greenwich, Conn. native is more of a gentle giant at 6-foot-6, but with his wingspan and long reach, along with pretty agile footwork for one so big, he’s tough to beat 1-on-1. He’s not a physical force but is more of a smart positional defender who angles opponents away from his net and sacrifices his body to block shots rather than look for open-ice kill shots and hammering players along the boards. When Sherman has time and space, he’s capable of moving the puck out of his own end, but when the game closes in on him quickly, his processing time lengthens and he can be forced into turning it over. Drafted out of Hotchkiss School, he took an extra year of prep before getting to Harvard, so he’s still pretty raw and will likely take the full two years remaining on his NCAA eligibility before the B’s will assess whether to bring him into the organizational fold.

 

Anton Blidh, LW      Drafted: 180  (6th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

Observations: One RLR European staffer summed up Blidh succinctly in Newark after the pick was made: “Gritty rugged guy, but no skills.” I’ll admit- have not really seen much to this player in the three years since he was drafted, even when he had a nice 2015 World Jr. tourney for Team Sweden. He’s gritty and rugged, but plays a very simple, straight-line game. It’s a nice fit for what the Bruins like, but Blidh is a dime-a-dozen kind of guy and it stands to reason given where they selected him. He’s not someone who is going to suddenly wake up and start lighting it up, but the team could do a lot worse than Blidh on the fourth line or in a pinch. In other words- as long as you take him for what he is, there’s no reason to get excited.

 

2014

Ryan Donato, C                        Drafted: 56  (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 65               Key comment: “Great bloodlines and hockey sense with soft hands.”

Observations: The B’s grabbed the son of one of their hometown favorites and the pick looks solid two years later. Coming out of his freshman year at Harvard under dad, Ted, the younger Donato also earned a Bronze medal at the 2016 WJC with Team USA. He’s always been a heady, creative playmaking center who is bigger than his dad but doesn’t have the blazing wheels. With the Crimson, Donato showed signs of being on track to be a dominant NCAA scorer in the next couple of years. The B’s can afford to be patient with him and they will- there is no reason to rush him to the big show.

 

Danton Heinen, LW/RW           Drafted: 116 (4th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

Observations: Nobody (outside of the NHL clubs on him) hit on Heinen…not one scouting service had him even ranked, and RLR was no exception. Two years later, Heinen scored nearly 100 points, making an immediate impact as a freshman and then following it up as a sophomore, leading the Pioneers in scoring after a slow start. He signed with Boston in April, giving up his last two years of NCAA eligibility to turn pro. Heinen made positive waves in his first AHL contest with Providence, registering a multi-point effort. He came down to earth a bit in the playoffs, but the British Columbia native looks like an intriguing playmaking wing, who uses his superior vision and creativity to control the flow and tempo in the offensive zone. He looks like a keeper. As for the questions surrounding Heinen and whether he can make the Boston roster right away, it probably wouldn’t kill folks to exert a little more patience and let him at least start in Providence to see how he adjusts to the pro challenges. He’s a talented forward with an intriguing ceiling if he continues his development, but let’s see how Heinen looks at his first pro training camp before penciling him into the Boston opening night lineup.

 

Anders Bjork,  RW      Drafted: 146 (5th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 178               Key comment: “Has the skating and the work ethic to make it as a checker.”

Observations: This late-round value pick is coming off a very good sophomore campaign at Notre Dame. He’s quick out of the starting blocks, accelerating quickly and demonstrating a nice short-area burst, which makes him highly effective on the fore check. He’s an energetic player and relentless in puck pursuit, but with the Fighting Irish this season, Bjork showed surprisingly consistent offensive flair, leading the club in scoring. He’ll need to keep putting up the points to project as something more than an ideal third-line forward, so expect him to come down to earth a bit next season, but he certainly looks like a nice value pick in the fifth round for the B’s because of his well-rounded game and smarts.

 

Emil Johansson, D      Drafted: 206 (7th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

Observations: A lack of hockey sense had him off of RLR’s list, but Johansson had a strong finish to the 2015-16 season that might earn him more of a hard look going forward. He’s got a bit of a doughy build and has been knocked for his conditioning in the past. Johansson is a capable skater who moves well laterally, and handles the puck with confidence. When it comes to vision and hockey IQ, we’re not all that sure if he’s got what it takes between the ears to play at the NHL level, but admittedly- he’s made a case to at least be in the conversation. It appears he is leaving his HV71 club for MoDo, so we’ll see what comes next in his development.

 

Colby Cave, C         Drafted: Undrafted (Free Agent- Boston 2015)

Red Line ranking: 85                  Key comment: “Complete centre is versatile- can excel in any role.”

Observations: Ranked in both 2013 and 2014 RLR draft guides, he’s an industrious two-way center that impressed in Swift Current with 2015 first-rounder Jake DeBrusk before getting signed by Boston before the team made his teammate one of three top-15 picks in Sunrise. He skates well and like Bjork shows some real energy and tenacity when pressuring the opposing puck carrier coming out of the zone. He didn’t put up big numbers in Providence, but had his moments and looks like he could challenge for lower line duty in Boston if he keeps progressing.

 

2015

Jakub Zboril, D         Drafted: 13 (1st round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 26                  Key comment: “Intense, and a physical specimen with a cannon shot.”

Observations: The Bruins missed out on an impressive top tier of defenders in the top-10, instead settling for arguably the next best player in Zboril, at least in terms of talent. Ability-wise, there is no doubt the Czech product could be a top-3 defenseman in the NHL one day, but the consistency and effort levels were at times lacking in his draft season. He took a step back statistically this past year, struggling at the beginning of the season before settling into a more defense-oriented role for Danny Flynn’s Saint John Sea Dogs. Zboril plays with a physical edge and when on his game, he’s as good as anyone, but the wavering intensity and at times nonchalance has led to questions about his commitment. We’ll see if he can mature and figure it out, but there’s a reason he wasn’t a top-10 pick a year ago, and Zboril didn’t help himself a great deal last season. This time around, a bounce-back campaign would be nice, but because he’s a 1997-born player, he either has to make the Boston roster out of camp or go back to the QMJHL. That has led to speculation that he might take his game to Europe in 2016-17.

 

Jake DeBrusk, LW        Drafted: 14 (1st round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 25                  Key comment: “42 goals and NHL bloodlines will attract attention.”

Observations: The son of former NHL enforcer Lou DeBrusk, the Red Deer Rebels forward finished strong with an excellent WHL playoffs and Memorial Cup tournament after a tough year offensively. Dogged by a significant lower-body injury early on, DeBrusk was then traded by Swift Current to the Memorial Cup host city club in late December, where he appeared to be getting his production on track before getting moved around various lines and scoring at a little over a point-per-game clip. It was a step down after scoring 42 goals a year ago, but DeBrusk is still a smart winger with impressive offensive hockey sense, and he showed some opportunistic offense with the spotlight on him in the Memorial Cup last month. As a late 1996-born player, the Bruins have options: he is signed and can spend the next season in Providence, or they can return DeBrusk to the WHL for his overage season. He’s a good kid who has been unfairly maligned because of where he was drafted and the fact that most public scouting lists had him in the 20’s, but he went about 10 spots earlier. Still- 42 goals is 42 goals- watch for DeBrusk to elevate his stock because he’s got the skill, smarts and dedication to be more than the sum of his parts. He’s got to get stronger, which could factor into a decision to send him back to junior, and his skating isn’t subpar, but he could stand to add some quickness in his first few steps. He compensates at this level by reading the play so well and bursting to pucks in open ice, but that will be tougher to do in the pro ranks with the reduced time and space.

 

Zach Senyshyn, RW        Drafted: 15 (1st round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 46                  Key comment: “Love his combination of size, skating and edginess.”

Observations: The first big surprise off the draft board in 2015 sparked an immediate wave of negativity from many who had never even seen him play. At 6-2, he can really skate, rapidly exploding to top speed in just a few long strides, and often times blowing by defenders on the outside and taking pucks straight to the net. He went from 26 to 45 goals from his draft season, but there is still significant room for improvement in Senyshyn’s game, and folks should not see failure if he is returned to junior before the next season. Though an impressive physical specimen, Senyshyn still needs to develop a more complete game and avoid the tendency for younger scoring forwards to hang out and wait for their next offensive chance. The payoff on this player could be big so long as people are patient, because he has the natural NHL tools to be a top-six forward one day, but some guys take longer than others, and the B’s can afford to wait a little. Like Zboril, Senyshyn can’t play full-time in the AHL next season if he doesn’t make the Boston roster out of camp.

 

Brandon Carlo, D                     Drafted: 37 (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 41                   Key comment: “Huge with improving puck/skating skating skills. Big upside.”

Observations: The gigantic Colorado product is already a fan favorite and he has all the makings of a dominant shutdown defender who can at some point help get the Boston blue line group pointed in the right direction. Like DeBrusk, Carlo can play for Providence next season, but it might all be moot, as this huge, mobile defender might just break camp and enter the season on Boston’s roster. Not to put a lot of pressure on the Tri-City Americans rearguard, but he’s talented enough to play right away. The big question is whether the Bruins will opt to let him play a bigger role in the AHL before making a decision. Either way, we’re pretty much looking at a player who looks like as solid a bet as any to play in the NHL. The question we’re left with is what kind of impact Carlo will have: on the positive side- he can really skate for a 6-5 player, with speed and agility, and he can fire off cannon drives from the point. Alas, not real sure of the vision and natural hockey sense, but his game is good enough to reach the NHL, even if he tops out as a solid 3-4 shutdown guy at that level.

 

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C             Drafted: 45 (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 70                   Key comment: “Strong two-way pivot but a bit mechanical.”

Observations: Swedish product is coming off a superb freshman season at Boston University. A lot of observers have drawn comparisons to Patrice Bergeron, which sets the bar pretty darn high for the player known as “JFK” but he sets himself apart with his refined game, smarts and overall poise. Forsbacka-Karlsson showed a natural flair for winning draws and despite not having high-end speed, shows a nice changeup of gears through the neutral zone and often pulled players out of position with a series of deceptive movements and head fakes. With soft hands and a natural knack for threading the needle, the sky is the limit for this kid, who left home in Sweden to adjust to North America in the USHL for two years before joining the Terriers. In hindsight, RLR had him a little low for what he’s shown in the early going.

 

Jeremy Lauzon, D                          Drafted: 52 (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 59                   Key comment: “Vastly underrated blue liner can hit, skate and score.”

Observations: This Red Line favorite went right around where he was projected by our Quebec guys, who saw him surge nicely in the second half. In 2015-16, he took his game up a notch, establishing offensive highs in assists and points, despite fighting through injuries that forced him out of the lineup and hampered his progress in the second half. He managed to return from a horrific skate cut to the neck during the second round of the QMJHL playoffs. His Rouyn-Noranda Huskies won the league championship, and he was able to get back to action in the Memorial Cup tournament, dropping the championship game to the London Knights. Lauzon skates well enough, though he’s still addressing his transitory skating mechanics- the pivots and turns can be a little slushy at times. He has a big shot, deft passing touch and will hit and fight to defend teammates when necessary. He could be the best of the three defensemen drafted by Boston in 2015.

 

 

Daniel Vladar, G                           Drafted: 75 (3rd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 67                   Key comment: “Poor technique, but he’s 6-5 and a human gumby.”

Observations: When it comes to high ceilings for goaltenders, Vladar was among the leaders in the class of 2015.  He played well for the USHL’s Chicago Steel, splitting the starts and posting respectable numbers, but the Czech native is still raw and years away from staking a claim for NHL time in the crease. Interestingly enough, the Bruins signed Vladar to an ELC, making him ineligible to return to the USHL, and it looks like Vladar could play in the ECHL or AHL next season. Don’t rule out a spot in the CHL despite the ban on European net minders if Vladar’s agents can successfully argue a loophole that establishes North American residency for him over the last 12 months. I guess we will see.

 

 

Jesse Gabrielle, LW                        Drafted: 105   (4th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 132                   Key comment: “Naturally abrasive cuss plays like a burr up under the saddle.”

Observations: At one time thought of as a potential second-rounder, Gabrielle slid to the fourth round, where his favorite team snapped him up.  One year later, he exploded for 40 goals after being dealt from the Regina Pats to the Prince George Cougars last August. Gabrielle is about 5-11, but is a thick and sturdy 205 pounds- he plays like a little wrecking ball, driving through traffic and getting pucks to the net the old fashioned way. He’s also very tough to play against as he dishes out big hits, is nasty along the walls and will go after anyone who crosses him. Gabrielle is an exciting prospect as someone who had modest expectations this season and blew them up. The key for him will be to keep progressing now that he’ll have opponents keying on him and will likely be playing back in the WHL this season as a 1997-born player. Unfortunately, the AHL is not an option for him until 2017-18

 

Cameron Hughes, C                        Drafted: 165   (6th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 71                  Key comment: “So underrated, underscouted he may not get drafted.”

Observations: Well, the draft snub didn’t happen- the B’s grabbed him in the middle of the sixth round- but if you put a lot of stock in the Red Line rankings, then the team got a heck of a value with the Alberta native there. A highly creative and skilled playmaking pivot, Hughes impressed RLR staffers going back to the 2013-14 season when he was a standout in the AJHL with the Spruce Grove Saints. Unfortunately, Hughes had the double whammy in his draft year of playing on a poor Wisconsin Badgers team, coupled with being physically under-developed in going up against the bigger, stronger, older NCAA competition. Hughes had a better offensive season as a sophomore and showed some flashes of NHL-caliber ability (he could work his way up to second-line center one day, as crazy as that might sound today), but the consistent production wasn’t there for him. Under a new coach and perhaps being a year older and a better surrounding cast, watch Hughes to open up some eyes this coming year.

 

Jack Becker, C/W                                         Drafted: 195 (7th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 222

Observations: The Mahtomedi HS-drafted player and University of Wisconsin recruit had a pretty average USHL season with the Sioux Falls Stampede, scoring eight goals and 22 points in 58 games. He’s got a big frame and has some intriguing skill, but is a long shot to ever do anything of substance in the NHL. We’ll have to take the long view and see how he looks in the NCAA, but all signs point to a slow transition that will take a few years and we might not even have a realistic view on his development path until 2018 at the earliest.

 

 

Bruins prospects update- the Amateurs

We took a quick season-ending look yesterday at the B’s pro prospects who are now officially in the offseason (minus a few of the European players- oversight on my part).

It’s time to look at the major junior and NCAA (plus the Euros I didn’t include) players and provide some observations on how their seasons went, signing status and what could be next for them. As Jake DeBrusk and Jeremy Lauzon are still playing, they are not included- we’ll wrap them up after the Memorial Cup is over.

Jack Becker, C (2015 draft- 7th round): Minnesota high schooler when drafted went to the USHL this season with the Sioux Falls Stampede prior to entering University of Minnesota-Duluth in the fall. The Mahtomedi native is a pretty raw product, still growing into his frame and developing an underrated skill set. It will likely take him some time to transition into being an impact performer with the Bulldogs, but for a seventh-round pick, there is some interesting long-term potential here. Current status: unsigned.

Matt Benning, D (2012 draft- 6th round): The nephew of Vancouver  (and former Boston assistant) GM Jim Benning was a key cog in the Northeastern Huskies’ run to the Hockey East championship. He doesn’t have ideal height, but plays a rugged, physical and smart defensive game and is a little underrated in terms of his vision and passing skills. He’s not going to be a big point producer in the pros, but he plays bigger than his modest 6-foot frame and looks like a future third-pairing guy and special teamer. Currently unsigned, though reports at the end of the season had the Bruins expressing interest in bringing him out of the NCAA on an ELC.

Anders Bjork, RW (2014 draft- 5th round): This sophomore had a breakout season with the University of Notre Dame, leading the Fighting Irish in scoring with 35 points in as many games. He’s a fast two-way winger (he spent most of his time on the off-wing this season) who doesn’t project as a high-end scorer in the pro ranks, but is a versatile, opportunistic three-zone player. He could very well develop into one of the better third-line forwards in the NHL one day, but as a late-round pick with other similar prospects in the mix, there is no reason to rush the Wisconsin native to turn pro. Current status: unsigned.

Peter Cehlarik, LW (2013 draft- 3rd round): The 90th overall pick out of the Swedish Hockey League is a Slovakia native coming off his best pro season. He tallied 11 goals and 20 points in the regular season for Lulea, then followed up with three more tallies in 11 games in the postseason, reaching the SHL semifinals before falling to eventual champion Frolunda. With a 6-foot-1 frame and weighing in at about 200 pounds, Cehlarik has the size to do effective work in the high danger areas and along the walls, but needs to get heavier on the puck. His skating has improved since he was drafted, but he’s still relatively average in terms of his initial burst. Has quick hands and a heavy shot. Current status: unsigned.

Ryan Donato, C (2014 draft- 2nd round):The son of his Harvard coach (and former Bruin Ted Donato) is the Brookline-based Dexter School’s all-time leading scorer (he played there under his uncle, Dan Donato) is coming off a strong freshman campaign. He split 2014-15 between the USPHL, prep school and the USHL. The skilled and cerebral center hails from Scituate, Mass. and earned a bronze medal in the 2016 World Jr. Championship tourney in Helsinki last January. He’s got a real head for the game plus silky-smooth hands and is bigger than his dad was (though not as fast a skater). He’s another project that will take more time to develop, but could challenge for top-six forward status in Boston one day. Current status: unsigned.

Ryan Fitzgerald, C/W (2013 draft- 4th round): Another player with deep local hockey ties and Bruins bloodlines (dad Tom Fitzgerald starred at Austin Prep and Providence College before embarking on a 1,000+-game NHL career). The former Malden Catholic Lancer and Valley Jr. Warrior just posted his best NCAA season as a junior at Boston College, tallying 24 goals and 47 points. Though not possessing ideal NHL size and speed, Fitzgerald is ultra-smart and competitive, often anticipating the play to gain a step on defenders and playing the game with unbridled energy and an edge. He’s often overlooked (guilty here) but has the kind of natural grit and characteristics that lead to pro hockey success. His ceiling might top out on the third line, but he could be an effective contributor there eventually. Current status: unsigned.

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C (2015 draft- 2nd round): Stockholm native spent the two years prior to this one in the USHL with Omaha before joining the BU Terriers last fall. Highly intelligent, slick center immediately impressed his coaches and teammates with his maturity and complete game. Good hands and instincts- more of a set-up man than a finisher, he’s a right-handed shot and plays a similar style to that of Patrice Bergeron. Although he stands at about 6-foot-1, he’s quite lean with a lot of physical maturing to do. He’s on the verge of breaking out in a big way next season as a sophomore and is one of the players the Bruins are eagerly anticipating down the road. Current status: unsigned.

Jesse Gabrielle, LW (2015 draft- 4th round): Surprise! The 105th overall pick last June scored 40 goals for the Prince George Cougars and impressed with his aggressive speed and physical, agitating game. A lack of talent was not the reason he allegedly slipped down to the fourth round, and Gabrielle will get his opportunity to develop and grow within the Bruins organization as he matures and learns more about what it takes to be a pro. Unfortunately, he’s a 1997-born player, so unless he makes the NHL roster out of camp next fall (not all that likely) he’ll have to return to junior for the entire season. He did get three AHL games in with Providence at the end of the year, but did not suit up for the playoffs (no ELC in place). It’s easy to get excited about the 40-goal season, but it will be important for Gabrielle not to take steps backwards this season with expectations now higher. He looks like a future top-9 NHL forward but he’s going to need seasoning first. Current status: unsigned.

Cameron Hughes, C (2015 draft- 6th round): Entering the 2014-15 season, Hughes was thought of as top-three round prospect after starring with Spruce Grove of the AJHL, but he was underdeveloped physically and playing for a poor team in the Wisconsin Badgers. Things improved for Hughes this past year (5 goals, 25 points in 32 games), though Wisconsin was still below .500, costing head coach Mike Eaves his position. The Edmonton native is an above average playmaker who sees the ice beautifully and sets the table well. Watch for him to take the offense up a notch as a junior, but he needs to keep adding weight to his skinny frame, and will likely be asked to shoot the puck more. Current status: unsigned.

Emil Johansson, D (2014 draft- 7th round): After a pretty mediocre regular season, Johansson heated up in the final games and SHL playoffs, flashing the promise he had shown at ages 16 and 17 before being a late pick in 2014. He’s only an average-sized defenseman by pro hockey standards, but skates well, with good straight-line speed and lateral agility. Observers question his hockey IQ and ability to process the play quickly enough to be an impact player, but after going without a goal in the first 40 games, he tallied five in the final 16 (10 plus 6 playoff contests) for HV71. Expectations are still where they ought to be for a seventh-round pick, but he’s produced more in Swedish pro than 2013 second-rounder Linus Arnesson did. Current status: unsigned.

Zach Senyshyn, RW (2015 draft- 1st round): After scoring 26 goals as a fourth-liner with very little power play time, the 15th overall selection netted 45 in a much bigger role with the Soo Greyhounds. With his 6-foot-2 size, he’s an explosive skater who regularly beats defenses to the outside and displays a knack for jumping on openings and finishing off plays. He’s got a lot of work to do on his overall game, yet. The biggest knock on Senyshyn right now is his shift-to-shift consistency and a tendency to hang back looking for scoring chances rather than going into his own end and doing the grunt work for loose pucks with regularity. That’s not to say he’s a lazy player- he’s not- but he won’t beat out some of the other older, more advanced right wingers in the system with the goal scoring alone. It will be interesting to see how he fares at the July 12-15 development camp and then in September with the rest of the veterans now that he knows what is expected of him. He played like a first-round pick after the B’s were hammered in the court of public opinion for taking him where they did, but even with the big boost in offense, he’s not ready for primetime. Like Gabrielle, he can’t play in the AHL this season if he doesn’t make the NHL roster in October, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the B’s keep Senyshyn for an extended period and then send him back before he hits the 10-game limit. That will depend on him and how he looks in the fall. He’s already signed his ELC- a three-year pact at $925,000 per season, which goes into effect either when he begins playing in the AHL regularly or passes the 10-game mark in the NHL. It does not toll while he is still in the OHL.

Wiley Sherman, D (2013 draft- 5th round): Huge 6-foot-6 defenseman had a solid sophomore season, scoring his first three NCAA goals after not finding the back of the net in 2014-15 with Harvard. The former Hotchkiss Bearcat is still quite raw and remains a significant project who is nowhere close to making a case for an NHL job in Boston. He’s a good skater for one so big and has capable puck-moving ability. However, when the game closes in on Sherman and he’s forced to make decisions under duress, that’s when things start to go off the rails for him. You can’t coach his size and tremendous wingspan and reach, and it bears noting that there isn’t much of an offensive ceiling for him, but he could develop into a capable bottom-pairing guy with the investment of more work and patience. The Greenwich, Connecticut native is a good guy with a fine disposition, but doesn’t bring the kind of nasty, snarly temperament that would be embraced in Boston. Current status: unsigned.

Jakub Zboril, D (2015 draft- 1st round): Boston’s top choice (13th overall- acquired with the pick from Los Angeles for Milan Lucic) has the tools to be a top-three NHL defender but he raised some concerns after an average season. The Czech had a much better 2014-15 campaign, when he overcame an MCL injury to post 33 points in 44 games. This season, he missed time to some nagging injuries and the World Jr. tourney, but only managed 20 points in 50. Zboril had a much better playoffs with 10 points in 17 games as the Saint John Seadogs advanced to the third round of the QMJHL postseason before falling to Shawinigan. When on his game, this player can skate, shoot, pass and hit; he makes opponents pay the price for real estate in front of his net and has the skill and swagger of an effective two-way D at the highest level. Unfortunately, Zboril can go long stretches where he appears passive and disengaged. That lack of consistency was the biggest reason why he wasn’t ranked in the top tier of defenders in the 2015 draft class, and has stood in stark contrast to teammate and fellow first-rounder Thomas Chabot (Ottawa- 18th overall), who really emerged  as Danny Flynn’s go-to guy on the blue line this season. Zboril has the talent to play in the NHL right now…but is the maturity and self-discipline there? We’ll soon find out, but as a 1997-born player drafted in the CHL he has to make the Boston roster or go back to the ‘Q’. This is why we’re hearing whispers that Zboril may opt to play in Europe somewhere, but with that season beginning before NHL training camp starts up, any such decision will likely have to wait. He signed his ELC with Boston last summer- three years at $925k with the same caveat in place as Senyshyn (and Brandon Carlo/Jake DeBrusk’s ) deal.

*Should Carlo and DeBrusk play in the AHL next season, their ELC first year will toll for the 2016-17 season.

 

 

Update: final stats Benning, Bjork, Donato, Sherman plus Tanev watch

The 2015-16 hockey season came to an end in the first round of games at the NCAA D1 championship tournament Friday for a trio of Bruins prospects, plus a fourth who was injured and didn’t suit up for Harvard’s 4-1 loss to Boston College.

Northeastern University had a killer draw, facing the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks, who didn’t win the NCHC (St. Cloud State captured that honor), but were at or near the top of the NCAA poll all season. The Huskies took the early lead but UND scored five unanswered goals in what was an eventual 6-2 victory for the Hawks. B’s prospect Matt Benning scored NU’s final goal of the season, his sixth tally overall.

Anders Bjork was the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish’s top scorer yesterday, ripping a laser beam past University of Michigan goalie Steve Racine to tie the game at 1 in the first. He then assisted on Thomas DiPauli’s second period goal with a highlight reel move through three Wolverines players to gain the offensive zone, then one-hand a drop pass to the goal scorer. Unfortunately for Bjork and his mates, the game went to overtime and the famed ‘CCM line’ of J.T. Compher, Kyle Connor and Tyler Motte ended Notre Dame’s season with Motte’s sudden death strike.

The Harvard Crimson played hard, but a tough start and 0-3 hole was too tough to overcome against the BC Eagles. Ryan Donato showed some impressive flashes of what could be to come for the talented pivot, but was held off the score sheet. His linemate, Seb Lloyd, tallied Harvard’s only goal. On the other side of things, Ryan Fitzgerald was on the winning club, and assisted on Alex Tuch’s somewhat controversial goal to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead. Tuch appeared to drive Harvard goalie Merrick Madsen into the net before the puck ended up over the goal line, but after a lengthy delay on two reviews, the goal call was upheld.

Providence College’s double-overtime loss not only means that the Friars’ defense of their 2015 NCAA championship title is finished, but also began the Brandon Tanev free agent watch, and the Bruins along with another usual suspect in the NHL are rumored to be in on the speedy forward from Toronto.

Matt Benning, D Northeastern University (HEA)

2015-16 regular season stats:

Games Played: 41  Goals: 6  Assists: 13  Points: 19  Penalty Minutes: 37  +/-:  0

Differentials from 2014-15 stats:

Games played: +5  Goals: +6  Assists: -11 Points: -5 Penalty Minutes: +1  +/-: -6

Season in review: One year after scoring nary a goal in a 24-assist sophomore season, the former Spruce Grove Saint (AJHL) and Dubuque Fighting Saint (USHL) found the net six times and finished with 19 points from the blue line, good for second place on the Huskies among defensemen (Garrett Cockerill-22 points). Benning played a career-high 41 games as a junior. He was as solid and dependable a defensive presence as they come; Benning is not a big point getter, but he played a lot of minutes at even strength and special teams for NU coaches Jim Madigan and Jerry Keefe as one of the Huskies’ alternate captains.

Outlook: In a more recent update, TSP (this blog for those who might be wondering) talked about Benning being one of the more underrated prospects in the Boston organization. He’s not flashy or dynamic- he skates well and uses his natural hockey savvy to be in the right place to make plays in his own end. He’s not big by NHL standards, but like a defense version of Noel Acciari hits hard and clean. The son of former NHL rearguard Brian Benning isn’t an in-your-face intimidator, but he’ll step into players in the open ice with his ability to come across the grain smoothly with effective lateral glide and footwork. He’s just a smart player who motors along while other more hyped players get the lion’s share of the attention, but his goal yesterday was a statement and reminder that after being an unheralded sixth-round pick in 2012, he’s still progressing and growing. Don’t sleep on Benning as a solid eventual middle tier contributor in the NHL who just might have the same kind of stealthy upside his dad brought as a legit No. 2-3 two-way defender in his prime.

 

Anders Bjork, RW  University of Notre Dame (HEA)

2015-16 regular season stats:

Games Played: 35  Goals: 12  Assists: 23  Points: 35  Penalty Minutes: 8  +/-:  28

Differentials from 2014-15 stats:

Games played: -6  Goals: +5  Assists: +8 Points: +13 Penalty Minutes: -6  +/-: +31

Season in review: One word for Bjork’s sophomore campaign in South Bend: impressive! The 2014 fifth-rounder doesn’t have much in the way of size with a 6-foot frame that isn’t going to put on a lot of mass beyond his already 187 pounds. However, he used it to max advantage this year, leading the Fighting Irish in scoring despite being the third-youngest player on the roster behind fellow 1996-born skaters Dennis Gilbert (October vs. August) and Dylan Malmqvist (another Aug. ’96 who is younger by just a couple of weeks). Bjork consistently found his way on the scoring ledger all year and demonstrated an impressive ability to set the play from the off-wing.  He plays a heavy game despite not having an abundance of size and against Michigan in the NCAA tourney he was dangerous and pushing the pace well until it appeared he took an awkward spill that might have affected him. He was not as effective the rest of the way, but still was a noticeable presence as Notre Dame put a scare into the Wolverines.

Outlook: As a sophomore, the Bruins will likely leave Bjork in school for at least one more season, maybe two. He’s not what you would consider an elite scoring forward but there are no flaws in his game. The Wisconsin native is smart, hard-working and opportunistic. He’s shown a penchant for scoring the highlight reel variety of goal, particularly in the USA bronze medal-clinching game last winter at the World Jr. Championship. While I’m not one to throw the words “draft steal” around all the time, Bjork looks like superb value at 146th overall. He’s got the speed, smarts and tough mental makeup of a higher-end third-liner if he continues to develop and progress. The Bruins are thrilled with what Bjork has done since they drafted him.

Ryan Donato, C  Harvard Crimson (ECAC)

2015-16 regular season stats:

Games Played: 32 Goals: 13 Assists: 8 Points: 21 Penalty Minutes: 26 +/-: 4

Differentials from 2014-15 stats: (combined from USHL, USPHL, prep- Dexter)

Games played: -20 Goals: -15 Assists: -37 Points: -52 Penalty Minutes: -6 +/-: +1

Season in review: Don’t be alarmed at the statistical differentials, as the biggest disparity comes from Donato’s senior prep season- he scored 53 points in 31 high school games. His NCAA freshman season production compares more favorably to his stints in the USPHL with South Shore and USHL at Omaha. As a center playing for his father, Donato showed promise and validated his standing as a late second-round draft pick in 2014. He took a backseat to Jimmy Vesey, Alexander Kerfoot and Kyle Criscuolo when it came to scoring, but he flashed his impressive offensive talent throughout his first ECAC season. Last night, he made one memorable play in the first period when he came out of the corner and took the puck to the net, evading one BC defender before cutting back against the grain and nearly tucked a shot inside the left post. He was denied by Thatcher Demko, who made a great athletic play, but that kind of display of stick handling and hockey sense is a reminder of why Donato was such a dominant prep forward at Dexter School. Donato also looked good with Team USA at the World Jr. Championship, scoring a pair of goals in the bronze medal game but also showing a willingness to bear down and play a more limited/checking role for the American squad.

Outlook: Steady as she goes for Donato, who has the hockey bloodlines and passion to be a real good one in time. The Bruins aren’t in any immediate need to have him develop on a rapid timeline, so they can afford to be patient and take their time- expect him to play at least two more seasons in Cambridge, possibly three. However, he’s got to get stronger and keep improving his three-zone game. Watch for the production to jump as he will soon be one of Harvard’s most skilled forwards with the departure of Vesey and other upperclassmen.

Wiley Sherman, D Harvard Crimson (ECAC)

2015-16 regular season stats:

Games Played: 31 Goals: 4 Assists: 6 Points: 10 Penalty Minutes: 10 +/-: 9

Differentials from 2014-15 stats: 

Games played: -6 Goals: +4 Assists: +3 Points: +7 Penalty Minutes: +6 +/-: +9

Season in review: A solid sophomore year ended in disappointment with Sherman injured and out of the last couple of games. He finished second in scoring on the Crimson blue line with 10 points, scoring his first goal after going without hitting twine in 37 games as a freshman. With his mobility and reach, he showed improved play in his defensive end and his confidence is growing. Not having him against BC made a tough slog that much more difficult for Harvard, so it will be interesting to see how he performs in his next couple of seasons and if he can become a dominant shutdown presence in the ECAC.

Outlook: The 2013 fifth-rounder out of the Hotchkiss Bearcats is 6-foot-6 and skates fluidly for a guy so tall. He’s still lanky and has a lot of filling out to do. He’s more of a gentle giant than a tough, intimidating baggage-masher, however. When afforded time and space, Sherman moves the puck quickly and effectively. However, when the game speeds up and closes in on him, he can be forced into turnovers and questionable decisions. Extremely raw when the Bruins drafted him, even then-GM Peter Chiarelli said that Sherman was going to be a project player. He’s coming along well, but it’s far too early to project him with a crowded organization of middle-to-lower tier defense types. It will be another two years before the B’s are forced to make a decision on him, so watch for them to take the maximum time and assess how he performs as an upperclassman when he’s given a larger role as the anchor of the Crimson blue line corps.

The Brandon Tanev watch is on:

Brandon Tanev is officially on the market

Born on on the last day of 1991, the 24-year-old undrafted free agent out just finished his fourth and final NCAA season at Providence College.

The brother of Vancouver Canucks D-man Chris Tanev has blazing wheels and can put defenders on their heels with his pure open ice speed. More of a defensive/energy forward than a high-upside scoring winger (Tanev can play either side), he’s one of the better free agent options this spring,  but should not be expected as an immediate impact guy in the NHL.

He’s smart and tenacious- and make no mistake- if you come out of Nate Leaman’s demanding system, you’re well-coached and know what it takes to succeed as a pro. Here’s his 2014-15 highlights package courtesy of the Providence College Friars (and he did score the NCAA championship-winning goal btw):

The Bruins brought Tanev to their development camp last summer, but that is no guarantee in itself that they can successfully convince him to sign with them. The familiarity no doubt helps, and the B’s have done a good job of keeping tabs on him and making their faith in him known. Whether it is enough to convince him to come to Boston or he opts for a team that can provide him a better opportunity to come in and play sooner/with less potential competition could be the deciding factor. Of course, if he’s looking at Frank Vatrano, PC pal Noel Acciari and even how well Austin Czarnik has done this season in the AHL, Tanev is already well aware of the opportunity that exists in Boston.

There’s also this- a solid source mentioned today that the Chicago Blackhawks like Tanev as well. It’s amazing what a winning organization can accomplish- the ‘Hawks know they can unload draft picks every spring, but when they can attract the better free agent options, losing picks in favor or more developed and mature players on a faster timeline to the NHL is the way a top team stays in the elite. We saw it with Artemi Panarin a year ago, and while Tanev might not presently project as a top-six NHL forward, with his speed and smarts, he’s one of those guys you win with. If Chicago wins the bidding for him, then it’s one more shot across the bow to the rest of the league that at times to be playing checkers while Stan Bowman is playing chess.

Of course, Boston and Chicago are just two teams after Tanev…there are others. You can bet on it.

We shall see where Tanev ends up, but as of now, the B’s are in on him, so we’ll just have to see where it all leads.