What’s Next for the Bruins (Pt. 14): Rounding out the Young D

Editor’s note- In our (soon to be finished) series breaking down an immediate and longer-term future for the Boston Bruins, the 3 Amigos consisting of TSP founder Kirk Luedeke, hockey scout/analyst Dominic Tiano and Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL) PBP man Reed Duthie have tried to cover all the bases. In this penultimate post on the subject, KL briefly looks at a trio of unsigned young defensemen on the eve of the start of the Stanley Cup final series.- KL

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Cameron Clarke, RD, Ferris State (WCHA)- The NAHL’s top defenseman for the 2015-16 season was Boston’s second of two picks in the fifth round last June in his final window of draft eligibility. The Michigan native just turned 21 this month and is coming off a solid, if unspectacular freshman year with the Bulldogs in which he found the back of the net just once, and finished with 11 points in 35 NCAA games. He’s got good size at about 6-1, but is still light and continuing to work on adding mass. He’ll play one more season, perhaps two in college, continuing to develop his body and overall defensive game. We should see him emerge as more of an offensive threat, as with his skating, vision and hockey IQ, he has the potential to put up good numbers at this level. In a nice side story, Clarke’s father was a Bruins fan growing up (his favorite player was Rick Middleton), so although the prospect was born and raised in Detroit Red Wings country, it was not hard for the family to switch their allegiance to the B’s after the 2016 draft.

Ryan Lindgren, LD, University of Minnesota- The U.S. NTDP U18 team captain in 2016 was drafted with the second of two picks acquired when the B’s traded Johnny Boychuk to the NY Islanders on the eve of the 2014-15 season. Although not considered “big” for the position, Lindgren plays with fire and has some real nasty to his game. He didn’t produce much in the way of offense as a true freshman with the Golden Gophers, but saw a good amount of ice time and is expected to be one of the team’s “bell cow” blue liners going forward. He’s a good skater with a fine stick and brings the kind of physicality and tenacity every team wants. With his excellent skating and agility, he has the potential to chip in offensively at the pro hockey level, but we’re not sure he projects as someone who will be a true point-getter, but will bring more value with his mobility and hard-nosed defense. Lindgren is strong in puck retrieval. He suffered a nasty lower body injury late in the season that cost him the remaining schedule and B1G 10 & NCAA tournaments- the Gophers sure could have used him against Notre Dame, giving up a third period lead to get bounced right away as the top seed. It will be interesting to see how Lindgren performs going forward, but he’s expected to rise up the B’s organizational depth chart as one of the team’s better prospects after helping USA win gold at the 2017 WJC- he could wear the ‘C’ for the 2018 squad.

Wiley Sherman, LD, Harvard- This 6-7, 220-pounder was drafted in 2013 (fifth round) out of the Hotchkiss (prep) Bearcats and played another year at that level before arriving to Cambridge for the 2014-15 season, As a rising senior with the Crimson, he’s effectively used his size and long reach in three collegiate seasons. He’s not going to be a two-way D at the next level, but he did post a career-best 13 helpers (no goals) as a junior. With fluid footwork and skating for such a big man, Sherman is a capable puck-mover who doesn’t play all that physical a style, but keeps opponents to the outside with strong gaps and the huge wingspan he possesses. The Connecticut native is expected to finish out his NCAA eligibility at Harvard and earn that degree- he could possibly sign with the B’s next spring, whenever his team’s season ends, as former Yale standout Rob O’Gara did in 2016.

 

 

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

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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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Deconstructing the Claude Julien firing

About 24 hours ago, the Boston Bruins and GM Don Sweeney officially swung the Sword of Damocles that had been hanging over the organization and coach Claude Julien’s head for weeks (some would even say years), dismissing the franchise’s all-time wins leader and Stanley Cup champion behind the bench, setting off a firestorm of criticism online and in the media for the timing and way it was handled.

This post will attempt to analyze the move and the subsequent naming of assistant coach Bruce Cassidy as the B’s interim bench boss. It is by no means the first and last word on the matter, nor will it hit every bucket that the firing impacts. Whether you were someone who felt it was time to go and are angered that the team elected to do it on the morning of the New England Patriots’ victory parade, are someone who felt he was not the problem and are even more irate at the timing, or are someone who feels like the move had to be made and have no issue with it (and everyone in between), this piece will try to raise multiple perspectives and shed light on some of the other factors that led to where we are on Wednesday, February 8, 2017- nearly a decade after Julien was brought in on the heels of the failed Dave Lewis experiment.

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

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

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

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

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Bruins Prospect Update: 01/08/2017- Golden USA- B’s World Jr. recap

If there were any skeptics left wondering if Charlie McAvoy had the stuff to be a top-flight 2-way defenseman in the NHL one day, that train has pretty much left the station after his player of the game and tourney all-star selection in helping lead Team USA to its third gold medal at the World Jr. (Under-20) Championship since 2010.

The 14th overall selection in 2016 scored USA’s first goal of the game, cutting into Canada’s 2-0 lead (the second goal having been scored by fellow future Bruin Jeremy Lauzon). McAvoy was the trailer on the play, taking a pass from BU teammate and Minnesota Wild prospect Jordan Greenway before lasering the shot over Canada goalie Carter Hart’s glove hand.

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

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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…

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

 

Dominic Tiano: 2017 World Juniors Canada vs USA- A Divided Loyalty

Was it little friendly banter from the three gents that bring you the 3 Amigos Podcast? Or was it all out war?

It began yesterday after we recorded a podcast with Bruins prospect Zane McIntyre when Kirk Luedeke (an American and founder of TSP) ended a chat among the three of us with the famous U-S-A, U-S-A chant. Reed Duthie and myself, both Canadians, didn’t have a response as we Canadians don’t have such a chant.

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3 Amigos Podcast Ep. 7: Special Guest Zane McIntyre + 2017 World Jr & B’s prospects impact

 

Howdy, all- the 3 Amigos ride again with our seventh (or is it eighth?- We don’t know- we have so much fun with these that we’ve lost count) episode of our podcast. Dom, Reed and myself are especially pleased with this latest effort and hope you are as well…

Today’s offering- the final one of 2016- features 4th Amigo and Bruins goaltending prospect of note Zane McIntyre. For those of you who might be living under a rock, McIntyre is the top AHL goalie, currently sporting a 9-0-0 record with 1.35 GAA and .953 save percentage in leading the P-Bruins to an excellent start under first year head coach Kevin Dean.

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Bruins prospect update 12/27/2016: 2017 WJC- McAvoy leads the way

The 2017 World Junior (Under-20) Championship started on Dec. 26 in Toronto and Montreal for Groups A & B in the round robin portion of the annual NHL prospect extravaganza that will run into the first week of January.

The Boston Bruins have five players (four defensemen and one goaltender) currently competing in the tourney: USA’s Charlie McAvoy and Ryan Lindgren; Jeremy Lauzon on Team Canada, Czech Republic D Jakub Zboril and goaltender Daniel Vladar round out the group. Guys who did not make the cut for their respective countries: Zach Senyshyn (Canada) and Oskar Steen (Sweden). Trent Frederic was not invited to the USA evaluation camp portion, but he was coming off of a hand injury that might have influenced USA Hockey’s decision to have him return to school. We don’t know for sure, but watch for Frederic to be solidly in the mix for the 2018 USA WJC squad. Canada did not even invite Jesse Gabrielle to the eval camp, which is probably more of a reflection of his not being part of the Canada Program of Excellence than anything else- you would think that a gritty power forward who can score and affect game flow with his physicality would be of value, but apparently not enough in Canada’s eyes. With both Canada and USA winning their opening games, the rosters look fine for now.

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On Brandon Carlo and other random thoughts on the 2-1 Boston Bruins

The Boston Bruins got a big win in Winnipeg Monday night and took four out of six points in their season-opening roadie, sandwiching a loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs with victories over the Columbus Blue Jackets and Jets.

Rookie defenseman Brandon Carlo netted his first NHL goal in the triumph last night, unleashing a handheld Howitzer from the slot up under the crossbar that former UMass-Lowell superstar and Mike Richter Award-winning goalie Connor Hellebuyck was powerless to stop. Here’s the goal and it’s a beauty for a 1st NHL tally: watch the way he slides up from the point to make himself available, as Andy Brickley would say and then drives the puck up high where mama hides the cookies.

Carlo has been a nom du jour in Boston circles since the B’s picked him 37th overall in the 2015 draft’s second round. It was a selection acquired from the NY Islanders in the trade for Johnny Boychuk (Minnesota defenseman Ryan Lindgren was the other second-rounder taken 49th overall last June) but the choice originally belonged to the Philadelphia Flyers, who forked it over at the 2014 trade deadline in exchange for Andy MacDonald.

The Bruins certainly look to be getting the better end of the deal these days.

Not only is Carlo a 6-foot-5-inch defender but he’s just 19 years old and has looked far more poised and refined than we gave him credit for. There are sure to be ups and downs for any rookie defender, especially one who’s skating on the top pairing with Zdeno Chara north of 20 minutes per night, but given Carlo’s physical attributes and accomplished defensive/shutdown play coming into his first full pro hockey season, it’s a solid bet that the peaks will outnumber the valleys with this kid.

As for Chara- he’ll turn 40 this season but there’s no need to throw dirt on his playing career’s grave just yet. He’s been effective in the early going and seems to be thriving with his young partner, as both have the size and skill to keep opponents away from the prime scoring areas, while also having the talent and ability to provide offense. The Boston captain had a goal negated on replay last night, but then fired a puck into the Winnipeg empty net after Carlo’s third period tally gave the B’s the insurance they needed for David Pastrnak’s team-leading fourth goal to stand up as the winner.

Chara has been a popular scapegoat over the last two seasons because he’s an aging veteran who by virtue of his outstanding play for so many years, was expected to perform better than he has (especially after a right knee injury suffered early in the 2014-15 season- he’s not been the same mobility-wise and it’s the new normal with Chara). There’s truth in that, but when you improve the supporting cast around future Hall of Famers in the twilight of their career as Chara is, it can make all the difference. It’s only been three games, but Chara and Carlo make an excellent pairing because they complement one another nicely. Unless their play falls off a cliff, the young buck is in a spot to learn a great deal from the legend. It reminds me a lot of what Kyle McLaren was exposed to when he made the Bruins as an 18-year-old in 1995-96 and skated with Ray Bourque. B’s fans will hope that Carlo ends up bringing a great deal more than McLaren did, but the latter was a top-10 pick in 1995, so more was expected of him. Carlo’s contributions, impressive as they are, fall into a pleasant surprise and bonus category, simply because he was the 11th defenseman drafted in 2015. The reality with Carlo is- he wasn’t supposed to be in Boston at 19 and playing 23 minutes-plus while contributing at both ends (he’s a +7 on top of it all with a positive Corsi rating), but we’ll take it. Free chicken never tasted so good.

It’s time to own up to the fact that TSP was far too conservative in our projections of Carlo. There has been a lot of hype surrounding the pick, and hype isn’t always a good thing, but to the former Tri-City American’s credit, he took advantage of injuries to Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid to establish himself as being worthy of sticking in the NHL. Sometimes, that’s what it takes, because veterans, by virtue of their one-way contracts and experience, will keep positions on a roster over the younger guys because of the economics and options. In this case, Carlo likely would have gone down to Providence, or very well could have begun the season as the seventh defender and a healthy scratch if not for the loss of two right-shot defenders before the start of the new season.

Sometimes, a key factor to solving a larger problem is right in front of you. Sometimes, it takes unforeseen events like injuries to open that window of opportunity to see it, but to Carlo’s credit- he’s shown a lot of poise and maturity. Again- it’s very early in the season, but his play has given the GM options, even if and when Miller and McQuaid return to the lineup. What’s more, you have other impressive young talents in the system: Rob O’Gara is getting big league games under his belt, and looks like he belongs- even if he might not be making the tangible impact on Boston’s fortunes right now that Carlo has. Matt Grzelcyk is playing with speed and confidence down in Providence. Jakub Zboril is playing more like a top-15 pick should in Saint John, and there is a lot of excitement surrounding BU defender Charlie McAvoy now that his NCAA season is underway. He’s been relatively quiet thus far, but a breakout performance is coming- just you watch. Jeremy Lauzon is on the shelf due to a concussion suffered in recent action, and according to his team- there is no timetable for his return. That’s a downer.

There’s reason for excitement down the road, but as impressive as some of those names might be, they are still unknowns. Carlo, on the other hand, is making himself into more of a known quantity each night. And, given the way things are going, it looks like he’s earning more and more trust and a prominent role from the Boston coaching staff.

It was tough to see Boychuk go, but even the most ardent critics of the trade (and granted- it was far more about the timing of it all and the expectations for that 2014-15 Bruins club than anything else), have to be encouraged that Carlo is giving Boston some tangible returns so soon.

The book on Carlo is far from written, but as the old cliché goes: so far, so good.

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The top line of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and David Backes has been carrying the offense in the early going, and somethings got to change if the Bruins expect to keep adding W’s to the ledger.

Dominic Moore tallied his first goal as a Bruin off a nice feed from Tim Schaller, making his Boston debut. Fellow Providence College product Noel Acciari started the play by outworking the Winnipeg defender behind the net to chip it to Schaller who found Moore alone and off to Hellebuyck’s right for a quick snipe.

Unfortunately, the B’s have gotten bupkus from the David Krejci-Ryan Spooner connection, and that needs to change. Austin Czarnik excited watchers with his speed and hands in the first two games, but neither Matt Beleskey nor Jimmy Hayes could get anything going in terms of goal production, so right now- Claude Julien and his braintrust need to figure out how to shake things up and generate some secondary scoring.

Patrice Bergeron’s expected return will move Backes down to Krejci’s right wing and that will help. Danton Heinen hasn’t been bad- he’s made some neat plays, but as said on this space many times- his game is not flashy. We had someone on Twitter say “Heinen hasn’t caught my attention,” and that is precisely the point. He’s a cerebral, playmaking winger who has made several impressive passes and plays in the face of a big hit or effective forecheck, but because he’s not dynamic, few are noticing. Unfortunately for Heinen, in a results-oriented business, he’s expected to produce, so he’ll likely be moved down the roster (or perhaps down to Providence) to try and work out the kinks. There’s a lot of potential here, and at TSP we recognize it…but if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to see it, does it make a sound?

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Third year forward David Pastrnak is getting. After. It.

He tallied his first career four-point game (2g, 2a) against Columbus and has scored in every game thus far.

On National Pasta Day, “Pasta” threw the puck to the net and it went in off of Winnipeg defenseman Toby Enstrom. It was a shot that was “al dente” if you please, but Pastrnak is breaking out as multiple analysts thought he might. He’s got to stay healthy, but he’s playing with top talent and he’s shown progress in his physical maturity to go with a work ethic that was already outstanding when he arrived.

At some point, he’ll hit some dry spells, but for now- Pastrnak is delivering the offense that this team so desperately needs, especially with the gaping void where the second and third lines are in the early going.

Of course, the downside to all of this success is the second contract and money that Pastrnak’s agent will be looking for, but all in due time.

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Tuukka Rask was superb against Winnipeg after allowing the breakaway goal to Blake Wheeler. The former Bruin came out of the penalty box and got behind the Boston defense before twisting Rask around and burying the puck. Moore came back with the equalizer just 19 seconds later, but Rask got the job done after that, denying and frustrating the Jets attack. This is precisely what the Bruins need from their $7 million goaltender, so he’s 2-0 this season with room for improvement, but credit where due- he’s getting it done. Oh, and he became the first Bruins goalie in franchise history to post two assists in a game, so there’s that. Not bad. He only needs 13 more assists to break the single-season mark jointly held by Grant Fuhr and Tom Barrasso.

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Krejci and Torey Krug are taking heat for their early season struggles. Fans know they had significant offseason surgery and their original timetables to return to the lineup were not decisive in pointing to them being ready to go on opening night, yet they made it.

Now, a great deal is expected of the duo and that’s a fair point to bring up, but the game is not played by robots who magically come back at 100 percent. If they weren’t ready, it would have meant even more untested guys in the lineup and there would have been critics coming out of the woodwork.

We’re allowing a grace period to take into account that neither player was able to do their standard offseason conditioning and training, coupled with a natural confidence test as they work through the surgically repaired hip and shoulder and get a more solid footing.

Neither is performing at their normal level, but now is not the time to pile on. We’ll give it more time and call it like we see it going forward. The good news for the team is that the record is 2-1 and not 0-3…it doesn’t alter the fact that the B’s aren’t getting the high level of play that fans are accustomed to, but that can all change. We tend to make perfection the enemy of good enough. That’s life and the Internet age with pro sports, but no one should be pressing the panic button yet.