Revisiting Austin Czarnik

austin_czarnik_providence_111515

With the unfortunate setback of Boston Bruins center Ryan Spooner’s concussion this week, another door of opportunity has opened for Austin Czarnik.

The undrafted free agent and former Miami University Redhawks captain had spent most of the season with the big club after a standout rookie pro campaign a year ago with the Providence Bruins. The Michigan native made the big club out of camp before taking a cheap hit late in the preseason that caused him to miss a little time up front.

“I know what he’s going through,” Czarnik said of Spooner’s situation after the Boston morning skate prior to their Wednesday night game against the flailing Detroit Red Wings. “He said it’s a mild one, but still- it’s a concussion, so you just gotta be careful with it. I felt good when I came back, but I felt like I was 100 percent, but maybe my cognitive (ability) wasn’t all there. Just moving back and forth, but it felt great. But when I got on the ice, it was a little bit different, so I think I may have rushed it just a little but it just takes time.”

Czarnik has always been a high-end skill player with the hockey sense and creativity to be an offensive force, but his lack of size resulted in a lot of disappointments throughout his progression up the developmental ladder.

“For me, it was hard growing up because I was cut from every triple-A team pretty much because I was too small,” said Czarnik. “It was a hard process for me, but I always had at least one person who believed in me throughout my whole career pretty much. They believe in me right now, and I’m just looking forward to the opportunity to show what I have again in Boston.”

Czarnik hinted at maybe being a little too conservative in his approach, which may be a reflection of his reticence to try higher-risk plays as a rookie. Or, it could have been a veiled reference to his only NHL coach to date (at least until Bruce Cassidy takes his place behind the Boston bench tonight), Claude Julien, and his reputation for a lower-risk, team defense system.

“I’ve been simple so much this year- I think I can start trying to make plays,” he said. “Realize what plays I have on the ice to make and not just try to get the puck in, things like that. So, that’s what I’m going to try and focus on and just try to create space out there for my linemates.”

As a productive player at the USHL and NCAA levels, it seems more than a little surprising in hindsight that not one of the 30 NHL clubs took a late-round flyer on Czarnik. However, what happened in the past is of little consequence, as these days, with the Second Chance Saloon open for business in terms of the annual NCAA free agent derby that occurs each spring as college hockey seasons come to an end, he was able to parlay his talent and production into an opportunity with the Bruins, much like another Michigander in Boston teammate Torey Krug, was able to do.

“Obviously, it’s every kid’s dream to get drafted, so I was a little hurt when I didn’t,” he said. “The second year, I didn’t even get picked up either out of college, so I was kind of hurt by that time, but I realized I just had to prove them wrong again, so that was the main thing and I’m happy it happened because I had options to pick from and things like that. So- any kid that doesn’t get drafted, it’s probably the best thing that can happen to you because you’ll have teams that want you if you work hard. That’s the biggest thing- you can just pick from your hand, so it was a cool feeling.”

Czarnik credited a former college teammate, since departed from the Bruins organization in forward Reilly Smith, with helping him to decide on Boston over the other suitors he had in the spring of 2015. He said that the tradition surrounding the B’s and the chance to play in a city like this one were major factors in his decision, one that seems to have paid off for the time being, as he is living his NHL dream with another opportunity to stick after being returned to Providence late last month.

“I think we’re just going to try and stay on the same page in terms of what they’ve been on,” Czarnik said of his slotting onto the third line in hopes of recapturing some of the magical chemistry he had with left wing Frank Vatrano in Providence last year as rookies. “Obviously, Spooner’s a really good player; I’m going to try and fill some of his shoes, but it’s going to be hard because he always makes plays. We just want to keep the train rolling and go from there.”

After an NHL stint on IR, Czarnik was sent down to Providence where he played five AHL games before being summoned to take Spooner’s place in the lineup. He talked about the importance of getting his conditioning back under control after missing three weeks and knocking the rust off of his timing and overall game with a lot of minutes at even strength, on the power play and killing penalties. He’s glad he had the chance to get some games in rather that have to regain his timing in NHL action.

Czarnik’s familiarity with former Providence head coach Cassidy will certainly help with the transition in his first game with the latter in charge of the Boston roster.

“When he’s playing his game, he’s got good energy; he’s on the puck, he’s creating turnovers with his foot speed, his stick, his hockey IQ and he’s making plays- him and Vatrano certainly have some chemistry,” Cassidy told assembled media during his post-skate presser. “He’s been good in situational hockey for us. He’s PK work’s been pretty solid. The power play…we’re going to move him around…he was up high before and I think he’s ideally better suited to be making plays around the net so he’s going to get to play in all situations and hopefully, he’s ready to respond. He’s had some experience up here; he should know what to expect in that regard, and he’s healthy.”

When asked by your TSP founder about Czarnik’s progression from rookie pro to where he is now, Cassidy opened up with more thoughtful and detailed commentary:

“His understanding of the game is better- he’s playing against men. The American League is certainly big guys, energetic guys, but they’re not men yet and as a smaller guy, he’s had to learn what he can get away with and what he can’t. This time around, we’re going to find out what he’s learned in that area. Like a lot of players, it’s the reps- getting to play with and against top-end, world-class talent, and he’s a smart guy; he’s got good hockey IQ. He thinks the game well, so it has to be one of his best assets. That, and a high motor- we’ve talked about that. If he’s not playing with a high motor, his effectiveness will decrease. And so those are the things we’re looking for in him. We expect an energy guy, using his speed…He’s got to use it and he’s got to use it all the time. I think that’s how he stays in this league.”

Cassidy declined to confirm whether Czarnik will need to make his bones at center or wing to remain in the NHL, saying that he thinks the youngster is better at center but has the versatility to play all three forward positions and has been moved around to find the best matchups.

“The jury is still out,” Cassidy said to close out his comments on Czarnik’s fit up the middle in the NHL going forward, but the by the gist of his comments, the interim head coach will give him every opportunity to try and establish himself there.

Austin Czarnik 13-14 Miami home front

Austin Czarnik’s 2013-14 Miami University Redhawks captain sweater (Kirk Luedeke photo)

 

 

Bruins add veteran Drew Stafford for conditional (late) pick

A largely uneventful NHL trade deadline day (the more meaningful adds happened before the Wednesday afternoon cutoff) ended with the Boston Bruins acquiring former 2004 13th overall draft selection and RW Drew Stafford from the Winnipeg Jets for a reported conditional (B’s making the playoffs? unconfirmed) 6th-round pick.

(Here are some YouTube highlights from a Buffalo fan “Topshot Elite 19):

After a year ago, when GM Don Sweeney added a pair of veterans in John-Michael Liles and Lee Stempniak for a total of four draft picks, only to see the team crater down the stretch and miss the playoffs for a second consecutive spring, this move is a bit more well-received because it represents a low cost/risk to add a solid veteran forward with size and scoring ability, albeit one who’s been hampered by injuries and a poor season.

Some of the rumored trades involving Gabriel Landeskog and Dmitri Kulikov never materialized for Boston, but in all honesty- anything more than Stafford would have likely required a cost that Sweeney and Co. were not willing to take on. The current Bruins team is 7-1 under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy, and adding him gives the new bench boss more flexibility at the forward position with a player who starred at the University of North Dakota and was a member of the USA’s first-ever gold medal-winning squad at the World Jr. Championship in 2004.

Here’s a quick look at what Stafford brings to the table for the B’s in the final make-or-break stretch of the season, one that has ended in the final weekend in each of the last two campaigns.

Upside: Four goals in 40 games with the Jets is a stark contrast to the 21 in 78 he scored a year ago (Stafford’s best season was in 2011 when he tallied 31 goals in just 62 games- a 40-goal pace). He’s likely to replace Jimmy Hayes on Boston’s third line and assuming Ryan Spooner stays at the center position, the two are a good fit, with Frank Vatrano over on the left side. Stafford is more of a north-south, crash-the-net kind of player, while Vatrano drifts through layers in defenses to find space to unleash his lethal shot. Spooner is your classic slasher who jitterbugs in and out of traffic to set up plays…if he and Vatrano can get pucks to the net, then Stafford has a better than average chance of banging some of them in. Stafford is a good fit for the way that the Bruins like to play. With more than 700 games of NHL experience and 31 years old, he’s been around enough but is not so long in the tooth that he can’t give the B’s offense a modest jolt.

Downside: The unrestricted free agent to be is having his poorest season to date, so to expect anything but a minimal upgrade to what Hayes gave the B’s this year is probably setting the bar too high. The knock on Stafford has always been a lack of consistency- he can go through long periods where he simply doesn’t accomplish much. That’s near criminal, when you look at the highlights of some of his better scoring plays, where he drives with power into traffic and through would-be checkers to crash the net and score with a quick and sneaky release.

Verdict: For a conditional sixth-round pick, this is a low-risk move that expresses faith in the current roster and lets them try and make the postseason with what they have. Fans sometimes forget that no team wants to have a bad year and tank, and 2017 is certainly not the season to do that- no disrespect intended to top prospects like Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier, etc.- it’s just that we’ve been spoiled in recent years with top-2 selections like Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine– this year, the bottom feeders aren’t likely to get players with that kind of elite franchise cornerstone cachet.  The benefit of making the playoffs, even if the Bruins aren’t considered by just about everyone to be legitimate championship contenders, is that the younger players get a taste of the intensity of playoff hockey and that helps to develop them. The B’s are not a team that needs to blow everything up, so Stafford is a solid if unspectacular add.

For years, Boston fans saw him score some big goals against the Black and Gold. Now, they’ll get a chance to see if he can help propel the spoked B into the NHL postseason. In a division where every other team added pieces to improve, it might be moot, but Stafford gives his new team a fighting chance at least. And that’s really all most people want.

 

 

Big trouble

Two games, two goals for and 10 goals against.

Malcolm Subban was chased Tuesday against Minnesota in a 5-0 home drubbing, and Zane McIntyre’s first career NHL start began with promise Wednesday at Madison Square Garden where the B’s took a 2-0 lead on goals from David Pastrnak and Austin Czarnik (his first in the NHL), but were undone by another putrid second period and allowed five unanswered to drop to 3-4 overall.

We knew the Bruins were going to have ups and downs, but to have lost both of Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin…they’re in it deep because neither one of Subban nor McIntyre appears to be prepared to carry the B’s through their current injury woes. Khudobin is on the shelf for several weeks, but the B’s have been completely silent on Rask’s status…that could mean he’s close or it might be the worst kind of news- any long-term injury to the veteran netminder and former Vezina Trophy winner and the Bruins are screwed. Let’s be clear- last night’s loss was not McIntyre’s fault. Sure- he gave up a soft goal to Kevin Hayes (both Boston guys the Bruins courted- Hayes and Jimmy Vesey tallied for the Rangers- file it under “rub salt in the wounds” category) to tie it at two, but he was outstanding at other times in making saves that should have been goals. Unfortunately, the NHL is an unforgiving business and the final score, even though the offense went dormant and the defense left McIntyre in a vulnerable position time after time…that 5-2 end result is what we’re left with.

The defense is struggling, but not in the ways we anticipated. Torey Krug is still not himself since his offseason shoulder surgery. He’s a step behind the play and trying too hard from the looks of it. He’s too good a player to stay in a prolonged slump for much longer, but he’d be the first to tell you he’s played poorly from the beginning. Last night, he was a key contributor to New York’s first goal on the power play by Rick Nash, failing to clear the puck when it was on his stick and then being so far out of position so as to allow Nash two shots to get it in uncontested off to McIntyre’s left. Adam McQuaid, who missed the first five games to injury, is now back and to say he’s not been good is the understatement of the century right now. His lack of mobility has a spotlight on it right now and last night, he was exposed multiple times by long lead passes in the neutral zone. For all the praise we saw Brandon Carlo getting on Twitter last night- he simply wasn’t very good either. He at least battled hard and competed, but he wasn’t effective in several 1-on-1 situations and was burned several times when he pinched up and then found himself behind the play. Note- constructive criticism of a player’s performance is not “hate” but it’s typical of fans to scapegoat certain players while conveniently ignoring the mistakes of the ones they’re solidly behind. Carlo’s a heck of a young defender, but he doesn’t get a pass on his mistakes. Last night, he was part of the problem and not the solution, but to be absolutely truthful- Carlo had a lot of help on the blame line.

We could go on and on…David Backes is out with an elbow injury and his absence could be weeks vs. days…Matt Beleskey is a game hitter but is completely MIA offensively. Ryan Spooner can’t seem to get in gear- the wing thing isn’t working. David Krejci assisted on the Czarnik goal, but like Krug, he hasn’t been himself either after hip surgery. Jimmy Hayes…enough said.  And the beat goes on.

We don’t have the answers you seek. Dan Vladar, he of 35 saves for Providence last night vs. the Toronto Marlies in an OT loss, isn’t one. He’s simply not ready, even if there are promising signs to his development. To those who want the Bruins to go out and trade for a goalie- it’s not that simple. Guys like Ondrej Pavelec (Jets) and Mike Condon (Penguins) can be had, but with their GMs knowing teams like the Bruins and the several others with goalie issues like the L.A. Kings, are over the barrel, the cost is probably not worth it. The type of player that could be had via trade or waivers isn’t going to make enough of a difference to justify the cost. Had a fan on Twitter say yesterday that a guy like Pavelec could be had “for a song,” and perhaps that person is right, but we would submit that unless that song is future considerations or unless Rask is gone for the foreseeable future, what is the point of giving up a pick or prospect just to be stuck with three NHL goalies and a mediocre one in Pavelec when Boston’s 1-2 goalies return to health?

The goaltending position is not the issue here. Yes, Subban and McIntyre aren’t likely to be the answer in the short term, but with the defense and offense misfiring badly, that need not be the focus for change. GM Don Sweeney knew coming in that his D wasn’t very good and was hoping they would surprise and overachieve. That hasn’t happened, and the struggles are now magnified without the top net minding talents, so here we are.

With the schedule getting tougher, it sure looks like things are going to get worse before they get better, but for now- we’ll have to wait for the other shoe to drop on Rask. We’re seven games in, and you’d think the team is 0-7 as opposed to 3-4 but the woes are exacerbated by the knowledge that the defense was a problem area going in. The team was counting on Krug to be a key cog, and right now, he’s not delivered- that puts pressure on everyone else. Colin Miller looks great…at not accomplishing much. We just don’t think he has the vision and head to be anything more than a role player who can chip in with offense but who doesn’t process the game quickly enough to be an effective player in his own end. John-Michael Liles has not been good and looks like he’s 36 after giving the B’s a shot in the arm when he first arrived at the trade deadline last year. Zdeno Chara and Carlo have been the bright spots, but let’s be honest- it’s a mediocre group. We all know it…counting on Kevan Miller to stabilize the blue line play is a pipe dream, too- he’s just not that player. That means some kind of change has got to happen at some point, and the change must be meaningful, otherwise we’re just papering over what is holding the Bruins back.

That’s on management to figure out.

Bruins prospect update #2: On Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson

Boston’s second of three second-round picks in 2015 (Brandon Carlo and Jeremy Lauzon were the others) is who we thought he is.

Much like Danton Heinen, if you go to a game Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, or ‘JFK’ is playing in expecting to be dazzled or entertained by a dynamic skater who makes flashy plays all over the ice, you’re likely going to be left wanting more. However, if you understand hockey and are able to look closely at the very same things that a young 18-year-old Patrice Bergeron (he and JFK were both drafted with the 45th overall selection in their respective draft years, as was Ryan Spooner in 2010) was doing right away in the NHL after making the Boston Bruins, you can understand why so many analysts are keen on the Boston University center.

JFK and his fellow Terriers are fresh off of a nice shutout win over Quinnipiac over the weekend in a game where the B’s prospect figured in all three BU goals- notching two helpers and then adding an empty-netter to complete a points trifecta. 2017-eligible goaltender Jake Oettinger notched back-to-back blankings and has carved out first-round status for himself in the early going after impressing last April at the U18s in Grand Forks. McAvoy was pretty good on the BU blue line as well- he hasn’t taken control like he did at the USA National Evaluation Camp in August, but the talent and NHL potential have both been clearly on display in film study thus far.

The weekend belonged to JFK as far as Bruins prospects go, however.

He’s such a slick, intelligent player- he was knocked in the past for lacking pace and a sense of urgency in his game, but in looking at JFK live and on film over the past two seasons, it’s not that he’s indifferent to tempo- he just thinks the game at such a high level- his anticipation is off the charts. As a result, he’s an economy of motion kind of player in that he’s not one who needs to move his feet like the Roadrunner to get where he’s going or make plays at speed.

It also speaks volumes that JFK earned an alternate/assistant captain’s ‘A’ in just his second NCAA season. After spending a weekend in Omaha in September, there are still quite a few Lancers fans who still wear his jersey to USHL games, and they remember his high-end two-way game fondly. Given how rapidly he’s developing, it’s hard to envision him spending much more time on Comm. Ave. but we’ll see how things go. We’re sure that head coach David Quinn and his BU coaching staff would love that not to be the case, but they are also realists- they figure JFK is probably not long for the NCAA and will soon turn pro with the B’s, so they’re pulling in some pretty impressive talent to fill the void his departure will create.

For now, Forsbacka-Karlsson is doing all of the little things that coaches at all levels love and value: production, smart three-zone play, effectiveness in the faceoff circle, and a mature, quiet style of leadership.

He has the look of a winner, and while the Bergeron comparisons are a tad premature, if you’re looking hard at similarities in the way JFK applies himself in action, it doesn’t take long to find them.

We began this post with the assertion that JFK is who we thought he is, and that is someone who has the look of a future NHLer who could evolve into a key contributor in Boston once he gets several pro campaigns under his belt.

The kid’s a keeper.

And now- here’s the updated scoring numbers for Boston’s amateur and pro prospects:

Amateur Prospects as of 10/24/16

Name/Team League GP G A PTS PIM
Jesse Gabrielle, Prince George WHL 8 6 6 12 8
Anders Bjork, Notre Dame HE-NCAA 6 5 6 11 2
Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, BU HE- NCAA 5 2 5 7 2
Trent Frederic, Wisconsin Big10- NCAA 4 2 4 6 2
Jakub Zboril, Saint John QMJHL 6 2 3 5 2
Zach Senyshyn, SSM OHL 7 4 1 5 10
Cameron Hughes, Wisconsin Big10- NCAA 4 1 3 4 4
Ryan Fitzgerald, BC HE-NCAA 6 1 3 4 4
Charlie McAvoy, BU HE-NCAA 5 0 4 4 4
Jeremy Lauzon, Rouyn-Noranda* QMJHL 2 1 2 3 0
Jack Becker, Sioux Falls USHL 9 2 1 3 8
Cameron Clarke, Ferris St. WCHA- NCAA 6 0 1 1 4
Ryan Lindgren, Minnesota Big10- 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

Name/Team League GP G A PTS PIM
Joona Koppanen, Ilves Jr. U20- Finland 11 7 9 16 2
Austin Czarnik, Providence AHL 2 2 1 3 0
Peter Cehlarik, Providence AHL 2 1 1 2 2
Emil Johansson, Djurgarden IF Sweden- Elite 8 0 2 2 6
Colton Hargrove, Providence AHL 4 1 0 1 0
Colby Cave, Providence AHL 5 1 0 1 4
Matt Grzelcyk, Providence AHL 5 0 1 1 2
Linus Arnesson, Providence AHL 5 0 1 1 0
Anton Blidh, Providence AHL 5 0 1 1 2
Jake DeBrusk, Providence AHL 5 0 1 1 2
Oskar Steen, Farjestad BK Sweden- Elite 11 1 0 1 4
Justin Hickman, Providence AHL 3 0 0 0 5
Sean Kuraly, Providence AHL 5 0 0 0 7
Chris Casto, Providence AHL 5 0 0 0 2
Zane McIntyre, Providence AHL 3 1 0 0.44 .977
Malcolm Subban, Providence AHL 4 0 3 4.50 .846
Dan Vladar, Providence AHL 2 1 0 2.88 .909
Brian Ferlin, Providence* AHL 0 0 0 0 0

*Brian Ferlin- injured

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

Time to go- Bruins raise curtains on 93rd season with new faces, youth movement

New Englanders tend to be realistic (pessimistic?) by nature, so while the focus has been on the defense and the potential for gaping lanes that skill teams will find available to them, as the 2016-17 NHL season begins for the Boston Bruins tonight in Columbus, Ohio, there’s some excitement swirling around the big league debuts of four players in the lineup.

Injuries to Patrice Bergeron, Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller have opened the door for a pair of forwards in Austin Czarnik and Danton Heinen, and a defense duo of Brandon Carlo and Rob O’Gara to get their first taste of NHL action against the Blue Jackets. Bergeron is expected back in the lineup for the weekend action versus Toronto and rookie sensation Auston Matthews, who last night became the only player ever to score four goals in his first NHL game. McQuaid and Miller will be out a little (in the former’s case, a lot for the latter) longer, so we temper the eagerness with which we greet the young rookies with the belief that perhaps half of them have a realistic chance of staying on Boston’s roster for the duration of the season.

In Czarnik, the B’s have a fast and skilled little (emphasis needed) center who was snubbed in the NHL draft, but looks like a pretty savvy pickup after four years at Miami University, the last two of which he wore the captain’s ‘C’. He took a high hit from behind that targeted the head in the final preseason game by Philadelphia defenseman Radko Gudas (he got a six-game layoff from the NHL’s department of player safety) but cleared the concussion protocol in time to play in his first big league game. Czarnik is a classic little engine that could as a player who always had to overcome size bias to work harder than just about everyone else to hone his skills and three zone game. After a 61-point first year in the AHL, he’s made the initial cut to stick in Boston, and that’s the stuff NHL dreams are truly made of. Czarnik is an exciting buzzsaw of a forward- he zips in and out of lanes and can put the shake n’ bake on less-agile defenders. When the puck is on his stick, he brings a similar kind of playing style to that of Brad Marchand. Note- we’re not saying he is the next Marchand, but you can see it in the way he uses his speed, vision and hands to create and give opponents fits. He’s not the abrasive agitator Marchand is, but Czarnik is a big man trapped in a little man’s body who plays the game with heart and energy. Fans love an underdog, and when coupled with Czarnik’s electrifying offensive element, it’s not hard to understand why so many are jumping on the AC Train.

More was expected of Heinen and he entered training camp as a prohibitive favorite to win a spot with the big club, but he is also a feel-good story. Passed over in his first year of NHL draft eligibility in 2013, the British Columbia native hit a significant growth spurt and then opened eyes as captain of the BCHL’s Surrey Eagles. The Bruins liked Heinen enough to snatch him in the 2014 draft’s fourth round despite his being an almost complete unknown in NHL draft pubs. The rumor at the time was that several other teams were hoping to steal Heinen later on, not the least of which was none other than the Montreal Canadiens. That story isn’t verified, but damn- it feels good to B’s fans to hear it. Heinen is a thinking fan’s hockey player- he’s not especially fast or dazzling in the way he handles the puck, but he goes to the right spots, moves it to the correct spaces and plays a quietly effective and productive three-zone game. He’s the quintessential Claude Julien-style forward because he’s both intelligent and efficient. If you’re expecting to be entertained by Heinen, you’ll probably wonder what the hype is about, but if you watch the wall work, the way he slices through layers of defenses and puts himself in position to make plays at both ends of the ice, you’ll gain an appreciation for him.

On the defensive side of things, Carlo is a favorite of those B’s fans who religiously follow the NHL draft and Boston’s prospect development system. Picked 37th overall in 2015, he looks like a brilliant pick in hindsight as his natural 6-foot-5-inch size, mobility and reach instantly jump out at you. Back in 1997, a young Hal Gill caught the eye of fans because he was 6-7, and was the biggest cat in the NHL before some guy named Zdeno Chara showed up on Long Island about a year later. The thing about Carlo is that while he’s not quite as tall as Gill, he’s a better skater and has long arms, therefore brings a similar reach. Fans are excited about Carlo because he’s big and fluid and does a real good job of keeping opposing forwards from walking straight to the net…a turnstile he is not. The jury is out on how much offensive hockey sense/creativity Carlo has, but he’s certainly not limited in terms of being able to handle the puck and join the rush. Having said all that, there will be natural growing pains as is with the case with any 19-year-old defenseman, but to the Coloradan’s credit, he impressed a year ago in his first NHL training camp and exhibition season and then carried that forward to make the Boston Bruins before age 20. He’s not a snarly, intimidating beast on the physical side, but he will rub guys out and is sure to be well-liked in the dressing room because he’s got an even-keeled personality.

Last but not least is O’Gara- a TSP personal favorite going back to 2010-11 when he left the Long Island Royals AAA midget program to win a prep championship with the Milton Academy Mustangs. The B’s drafted him with the final selection of the fifth round, and he was described by then-assistant GM Don Sweeney as a “big piece of clay” that required a great deal of molding and shaping. Five years later, the 23-year-old Yale grad might not be a finished product, but he’s close enough and tonight will earn a status no one can take away from him- NHL player. O’Gara is a good skater- it’s less about speed and stride with him than it is fluid and agile footwork, which allows him to pivot and change direction quickly and efficiently. He’s got size and reach…and he can make an effective outlet pass to aid in the transition game. Like Carlo, there are sure to be mistakes and mishaps, but O’Gara is smart and motivated- he’s a quick study and character guy who has been around long enough that he understands the system and is ready to prove himself. It might mean more of an apprenticeship in Providence when other players return, but for now, O’Gara has earned the opportunity and will begin on the second pairing with Torey Krug on the right side (ROG shoots left, so it speaks volumes about the level of trust he’s earned that the Boston coaching staff is fine with him playing his “off” side).

David Backes will skate on a line tonight with Marchand and David Pastrnak if nothing changes between now and puck drop, and with Bergeron out (albeit temporarily), maybe bringing in an experienced veteran center wasn’t such a bad idea after all. David Krejci has a great deal to prove, and with Heinen and Ryan Spooner flanking him, there’s no shortage of offensive creativity on that unit. Spooner’s speed is a welcome addition to the lessened pace of Krejci and Heinen, but the trio provide quite an intriguing matchup on paper. All three of them are or have been centers before, so that’s a line that gives Julien a lot of flexibility and versatility.

Czarnik will likely test his NHL mettle with Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes. Beleskey doesn’t have the high-end skill to put up big numbers (and he’d be on the top two lines in any event if that were the case) but he’s gritty and should develop some chemistry with Czarnik. Hayes is the wild card- the B’s desperately need a revival from him this season much like Reilly Smith had with Florida a year ago. It would be foolish to think that Hayes doesn’t want to make it work in Boston, but he’ll have to shrug off the external pressures and get down to the basics by just doing what he does best. He doesn’t have either of his linemates’ wheels, so it will be interesting to see if they have some set plays to leverage Hayes as a trailer into the zone with his soft hands and big shot.

Tim Schaller is back up with Boston with Bergeron out and may get a chance to skate with Noel Acciari and Dominic Moore, but the guess here is that Riley Nash will round out the fourth line. It’s not a nasty unit in terms of abundant physicality, but they’ll all grind it out and bring some veteran smarts to go with Acciari’s exuberance.

Defensively, the Bruins need their veterans- Chara, Krug and John-Michael Liles– to provide some glue for the younger guys- Carlo (Chara), O’Gara (Krug) and Colin Miller (Liles) as they shake out the butterflies and deal with the immense difference in speed, skill and pace from what they are used to. Chiller got enough action in last year, and Joe Morrow is also around to step in should anyone get hurt or falter, but this is an untested bunch and the biggest source of consternation with the 2016-17 Bruins.

Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin were the tandem in Boston’s net the last time the B’s went to the Stanley Cup final series in 2013, so there are no concerns with the talent or experience. They can’t carry a team on their backs, though- so everyone will have to row hard in the same direction. If the talent gap becomes too great, then Sweeney will have to act at some point.

That’s all going to have to wait for the time being, because this is what the B’s are going with to begin the new season.

As the Dropkick Murphys so aptly like to belt out- drop the puck…it’s time to go. (Thanks BruinsBabe176)

2016-17 Boston Bruins preview series: the Centers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka "JFK"

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka “JFK”

 

 

 

A look at the 10th Boston Bruins development camp Pt 1: the G and D

Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney didn’t invent the idea of bringing young prospects in during July to acclimate them to the team’s systems, culture and begin the bonding process with their peers inside the organization, but he is the father of the development camp tradition in Boston, which began in the summer of 2007.

As the team’s top player development guru at the time, Sweeney’s vision has matured in the near-decade since the B’s brought in top picks Zach Hamill (ouch) and Tommy Cross, to mix in with the other prospects, five of whom went on to have fine NHL success and were a part of the 2011 Stanley Cup championship squad- David KrejciMilan Lucic and Brad Marchand, Adam McQuaid and Tuukka Rask. Here’s an old archive of that very first prospects camp, written by John Bishop– the recap provides a fascinating glimpse into the future at a time when so much was exciting and  new, including head coach Claude Julien.

10 years later, Cross is still with the organization and Marchand is coming off of his best NHL season to date, lighting the lamp 36 times for the Bruins and lining himself up for a lucrative extension that should see him earn about $6 million on an average annual value if the team can get something done with him before he becomes an unrestricted free agent next July 1. Krejci moved into the B’s all-time top-20 scorers this past season, and enters the new campaign in striking distance of 500 career points (he sits at 472). Krejci turned 30 in late April and there are concerns that his slight frame could be breaking down after the wear and tear he’s been subjected to since breaking into the NHL on a full-time basis midway through the 2007-08 season. A fourth member of that inaugural development camp- McQuaid- is another member of the championship team and has managed to carve out a solid NHL career with the Bruins after the team acquired him from Columbus (he was a second-round choice in 2005) before the 2007 draft for a fifth-round pick. Rask, who interestingly enough was outplayed by Kevin Regan in the final inaugural camp scrimmage, went on to earn the 2014 Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top netminder and backstopped the B’s to the 2013 Stanley Cup final series after backing up Tim Thomas in 2011. That Rask gave up 7 goals on just 29 shots while Regan stood tall at the other end should serve as a reminder to everyone not to get too fixated on what happens during camp scrimmages.

Boston is middle of the pack when it comes to developing prospects, and in looking back on it, that very first development camp was the high-water mark for the B’s organization with five successful (impactful to Boston) graduates taking part. That number goes up if you include those camp participants who went on to see NHL success elsewhere (Vladimir Sobotka) or big league action at some point in their careers, some more than others (Matt Hunwick, Byron Bitz, Matt Lashoff, Martins Karsums, Andrew Bodnarchuk, Mikko Lehtonen, Hamill, Cross). When you consider that Lashoff and Karsums (and Bitz) were dealt for future Hall of Famer Mark Recchi and the pick that brought Dennis Seidenberg and Matt Bartkowski to the Bruins, it was a pretty impressive time for the B’s organization and foreshadowed that the team was on its way up, just four years from climbing to the summit of the NHL after being mired in the cellar.

Since 2007, development camp production has been a little more spotty- Joe Colborne, Mike Hutchinson, Jordan Caron, Tyler Randell, Tyler Seguin, Ryan Spooner, Craig Cunningham, Zach Trotman, Dougie Hamilton, Alexander Khokhlachev, Kevan Miller, Torey Krug, Seth Griffith, Joe Morrow, David Pastrnak, Noel Acciari and Frank Vatrano are all past Bruins prospects and camp attendees (2008-15) who saw NHL action in the 2015-16 season. There are more if you include players like Josh Jooris (Calgary) and Matt Read (Philadelphia) to name two, both of whom attended past Bruins camps as undrafted NCAA invites.

It is not lost on myriad fans that two of the most skilled and impactful players from that list- Seguin and Hamilton- are now skating and producing for the Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames. Krug, Pastrnak and Spooner are the biggest success stories as home grown players who all saw time in at least one summer development camp. Vatrano and Acciari might not be too far behind in terms of growing into regular contributors to Boston’s fortunes.

Since 2014, when the B’s drafted Pastrnak late in the first round and then saw him earn an NHL role at the tender age of 18, the draft process has looked up for the team and there is reason to look at some of the futures with more optimism than in the past.

Much has happened in the decade since Peter Chiarelli and Sweeney brought their first iteration of prospects to Wilmington, Mass. and not all of it good. However, that’s life- a series of ups and downs. The B’s lost their way during a critical period of unproductive drafts (2007-09) and then moved out some of their top young talent for nowhere near enough in return. The jury is still out on Dougie Hamilton, who turned into three promising picks in Zach Senyshyn, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Jeremy Lauzon (the first two of the trio will not be in attendance due to health and schedule conflicts).

While development camps are helpful to assisting the youngsters in preparing for the challenges that lie ahead as they transition from the amateur to pro ranks, they are not predictors of future NHL success. That remains largely up to the players themselves to beat out those ahead of them on the depth chart, or become footnotes in camp history the way T.J. Trevelyan, Levi Nelson, Chris Collins, Dennis Reul and Brock Bradford (among others) did from 2007.

2016 Boston Bruins development camp attendees at a glance (2015-16 club in parentheses)

The goaltenders:

Stephen Dhillon (Niagara- OHL): The lone invite this year as a player not drafted by Boston or under contract (he attended Detroit’s prospects camp this week, btw), the dual citizen from the Buffalo area is big, toolsy and was at one point projected as a top-90 pick in the 2016 NHL draft. He didn’t get much playing time and is still pretty raw, but might earn an NHL contract offer this summer if he can impress in his various tryouts. If not signed by the start of the new season, he’ll go back into the 2017 NHL draft.

Zane McIntyre (Providence- AHL): This is the former University of North Dakota star’s seventh Bruins development camp since he was drafted in 2010. After winning the 2015 Mike Richter award as the NCAA’s top netminder and finishing third in Hobey Baker voting as the top college player (behind Jack Eichel and Jimmy Vesey), McIntyre had a challenging transition to pro hockey. He was thrown into the fire early when Subban suffered a training camp injury and at times, McIntyre flashed the promise of a future NHL starter. He’s coachable and driven, so he’s going back to work on fundamentals and watch for him to bounce back in his second AHL campaign. Here’s a report on his Richter Award:

Malcolm Subban (Providence-AHL): Subban did not attend a year ago, but after suffering a fractured larynx during warmups in late January, he missed the rest of the season. This is an opportunity to help him get back into playing shape so that he’s not going into September training camp to face NHL shooters about 9 months after his injury. It’s more about helping him with his confidence and timing than anything else, and will give the Boston coaches additional time to help refine his technique.

Here’s his 2012 draft video from the YouTube :

 

Daniel Vladar (Chicago- USHL): The massive (6-5) Czech butterfly goalie and third-rounder in 2015 had a strong first North American season playing Jr. A hockey while splitting the Steel’s goaltending duties nearly down the middle. He’s so big and athletic that “Darth” Vladar is tough to beat on the first shot, but he’s got work to do with his technique (sensing a trend here?). At times, he appears slow to read the play and seems to be guessing about where the shot is coming from, so this is something B’s goalie coach Bob Essensa will likely work on with him. When on his game, Vladar is like a giant octopus who swallows pucks and impresses with his size and agility. He signed a three-year ELC last spring, so it remains to be seen whether he will play pro hockey in the AHL or ECHL (or Europe) or try to work a loophole that might allow him to skirt the CHL’s ban on import goalies to play in the QMJHL. We’ll see.More draft on Vladar from USHL:

Vladar highlights from 2015 Bruins development camp courtesy of “Power Play with CJ”:

The defensemen:

Brandon Carlo (Tri-City- WHL/Providence- AHL): Colorado native is already a fan favorite after being drafted 37th overall in 2015 as a big (6-5), fluid-skating shutdown defenseman. As a late-born 1996 who has already signed with Boston, Carlo is eligible to play the full year in Providence of the AHL if he doesn’t make the NHL Bruins out of camp. He’s a solid bet to play for Boston at some point this season, just because of his impressive pro hockey attributes and a mature outlook. He’s very difficult to beat 1-on-1 because of his mobility and reach, and while rugged in his style, isn’t an overly nasty or intimidating player. He’s still a little on the light side given how tall he is, but John Whitesides will get him NHL-ready real soon. Whether Carlo can evolve into a legitimate two-way threat at the NHL level or he becomes a solid, minute-eating defensive mainstay is the question we most want to see answered…all in due time. Here’s a nice draft profile on him from the Tri-City Americans:

And an isolation video of Carlo from the 2015 WJC (HockeyPwns):

Cameron Clarke (Lone Star- NAHL): The NAHL’s top defenseman and Ferris State recruit racked up 50 points this season for the Brahmas. He’s got an athletic 6-foot-2 frame with room to pack on some muscle to be able to handle the more rugged play at the higher levels. Although raw, Clarke is a heady, creative defender who skates with fluidity and can make all of the requisite passes in a rapid transition attack. He’s especially effective on the power play, where he uses his deft puck skills and lateral agility to create space and set up the play. He doesn’t have an overpowering shot yet, but is smart about when to use it and will strike when the shooting lanes are there. Clarke is more dangerous as a set-up man, where he quarterbacks the play with the man advantage and also uses his mobility and reach to deny opponents from gaining the edge and attacking with speed.

Matt Grzelcyk (Boston University- NCAA): TSP just published a comprehensive Q & A on the former Terriers captain and native Townie, but to quickly recap- he’s coming off of two significant lower body injuries that hindered him in his senior season. Even with the wonky knees, he still managed to match a career-best in goals with 10 and when healthy, plays an effective transition game with an improving defensive mindset. Don’t count him out in his quest to earn NHL playing time this season, though he’s realistic in what lies ahead and is prepared to do an apprenticeship in the minors first. Here’s a BU-produced video from his freshman season:

Grzelcyk given too much time/space at the 2015 Beanpot in OT:

His draft video from USA Hockey (and you just might recognize the voice on that 1st question):

Emil Johansson (HV71- Sweden): The 2014 seventh-rounder is a mobile, two-way defender who raised eyebrows late in the season and Swedish pro league playoffs when his offense came alive (3 goals, 5 points in 6 playoff contests). He’s got pretty average size with a 6-0, 190-pound frame, but skates well and is showing off some intriguing puck skills and potential. The hockey IQ/vision/creativity is a question mark at this stage, but since being drafted, the all-around game is progressing. He will skate for Djurgårdens IF next season and if he can keep his developmental curve headed up, Johansson might prove to be a late-round get worth signing and putting into the system. If you can speak Swedish, here’s a HV71 video interview from early in 2014-15 (nice footwork in the limited look):

Jeremy Lauzon (Rouyn-Noranda- QMJHL): For TSP’s money, the 52nd overall pick in 2015 with the third of three draft choices Calgary gave up for Hamilton, was one of that draft’s more impressive values. Even with a spate of injuries throughout the season, which included a scary skate blade cut to the neck during the ‘Q’ playoffs, Lauzon put up career numbers as the Huskies’ go-to defender and bell cow in all situations. He’s big enough at 6-2, skilled enough- he was one of the final cuts on Team Canada’s WJC squad after not even being a summer camp and December invite- and he plays a solid 200-foot game as a smart positional player with some bite. Bruins fans will grow to love him, even if he may or may not project as a high-end true No. 1 defender. If he hits on that potential however, it would go a long way towards silencing the unhappiness surrounding the trade with Calgary. He’s probably at least three years away, but if his progress is any indication, Lauzon will be worth the wait.  Have posted this before, but John Moore’s early 2014-15 profile is quite good:

Ryan Lindgren (U.S. NTDP Under-18- USHL): The Team USA captain and two-way rearguard was a great get at 49th overall in Buffalo. He’s similar to Lauzon in that he has no discernible flaws in his game and has a promising offensive upside that may not have been that appreciated by NHL scouts in his draft season. Though not all that tall at a little under 6-1, Lindgren is thick through the torso and has strong lower leg drive, which allows him to generate impressive skating speed and separate opponents from the puck. He’s so smart and instinctive- he pinches at the right times and understands his limitations. Lindgren will help you a lot, but he rarely hurts you.  The University of Minnesota-bound 18-year-old has high-end character and will do a little bit of everything, including playing with an edge that has caught some opponents unawares. Had he been 6-2 or 6-3, Lindgren would have been a first-round pick, but don’t sell him short as a player who could be more than the sum of his parts as a versatile defender who minus the size and reach, has the key attributes NHL clubs covet.  Here are some Lindgren U18 highlights (bigwhite06):

Draft video courtesy of the USHL:

Charlie McAvoy (Boston University- NCAA): Boston’s top pick at 14 is generating a lot of buzz headed into camp and rightfully so. You can read more about him here, but the common thread for the youngest skater in college hockey last season is that he has both the skill and personality to be a fan favorite in the NHL if he hits on his potential. An excellent skater who likes to take the puck and run with it, McAvoy’s defensive game and awareness steadily improved over the course of the season. He still needs to work on his decision-making and not getting too aggressive, but with the B’s making a conscious effort to add speed and skill to their transition game, McAvoy immediately rises to the top of the organization’s prospect depth chart for the position, and is up there with 45-goal scorer Zach Senyshyn in terms of projected NHL impact one day. McAvoy will be the focus of development camp, and rightfully so- he’s earned that, and some NHL scouts have said that he is on the verge of a major breakout at BU in 2016-17. A pro contract with Boston might not be that far behind. Watch his selection on YouTube:

Wiley Sherman (Harvard University- NCAA): At about 6-7, Sherman is the tallest Bruins prospect, and he brings surprising agility and footwork for one so enormous. He’s still filling out that imposing frame and could tip the scales north of 240 pounds when all is said and done. The 2013 fifth-rounder is coming off of a solid sophomore season at Harvard, where he benefited from an expanded role with the Crimson under Ted Donato and showed off some intriguing flashes of two-way play. With his long reach and skating, he’s difficult to beat off the rush, but Sherman needs to make faster decisions in the face of a tenacious forecheck. The former Hotchkiss Bearcat was always going to be a long-term project, but you can see a payoff down the road as a lower-pairing defense-minded player who could form a nice tandem with a more skilled offensive partner. With the size you simply can’t teach, there’s enough raw material with the Connecticut native to wait for.

Jakub Zboril (Saint John- QMJHL): Boston’s top choice in 2015 has a nice opportunity to demonstrate that some of the concerns about him after taking a step backwards offensively are unwarranted. On the plus side- the 19-year-old Czech is big, skates well and plays with a physical edge that is not typical of many European teens that come over to North America. He showed more two-way promise in his draft season, but did settle into a more defensive role this year before coming out of the shell to impress with some key playoff production. The big knock TSP has on Zboril is not unique to 2015-16, however- too often, the effort and compete aren’t where they need to be. This is not a matter of trying to downplay his potential, and before pointing out his youth, the road to the NHL is paved with similar impressive talents who for whatever reason, simply did not have the requisite personal discipline and dedication to live up to where their talent got them drafted. With his skating, passing, shot and physicality, Zboril still has top-two NHL defense potential. He’s at a key personal crossroads this season: he’ll have to start showing everyone that he’s capable of more consistent execution and effort in all three zones and is willing to put in the work to round out the parts of his game that aren’t NHL-quality yet. If he can do that, there’s reason to believe that Zboril will succeed, but he was the 13th overall selection for a reason- he needs to start putting it together. As a 1997-born prospect, he cannot play in the AHL for Providence this season if he doesn’t make the NHL roster out of camp. Another John Moore profile from Zboril’s draft season:

Highlights package from the HockeyVidz:


Rob O’Gara is not in attendance- he has “graduated” and will focus on making the Boston Bruins roster in the fall after finishing a four-year NCAA career at Yale. TSP has a more in-depth profile on the Long Island native coming this week, so if you’re disappointed that he won’t be there, we’ve got you covered.

But before that- coming soon- TSP will break down all of the forwards at Bruins development camp.

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Amigos Podcast: the Free Agency edition

The 3 Amigos ride again!

Dom, Reed and I are back with our 3rd podcast together, recapping the 1st week of NHL free agency with a decided Boston bent, covering David Backes, Anton Khudobin, Riley Nash, Tim Schaller and Alex Grant to name a few. Dom will tell you why he thinks Khudobin for two years, beyond the solid addition of a proven backup, has key implications for Malcolm Subban not getting snapped up in the expansion draft.

We also issue a Danger, Will Robinson! alert to fans of the Edmonton Oilers as we look at the impacts of recent signing and additions to that club’s cap picture and we see some eerie parallels to how it all came unraveled in Boston.

We also discuss (about 55 minutes in) the Bruins and Don Sweeney’s still pending move to upgrade the NHL talent on defense- that kind of a move to shore up the club’s right-shooting depth chart has been curiously lacking. Dom mentions an interesting name with Ontario connections and Reed has had plenty of looks and shares his thoughts on why this particular player (an RFA) might be a stealth target of the Bruins via trade.

All in all, it’s a little over 90 minutes of hockey talk, unvarnished and calling it like we see it. Ole!

Getting to know David Backes

When the news broke Friday in the NHL’s annual free agent extravaganza that the Boston Bruins agreed to terms with former St. Louis captain and center David Backes, any optimism that the team might be acquiring a player with a great deal of experience and an impressive body of work as a top two-way forward and leader was tempered with concerns about the 32-year-old’s five-year, $30 million pact.

Regardless of what side of the fence you come down on, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound veteran is a multiple 30-goal scorer who spent his entire career with the Blues after being the 62nd overall selection in the storied 2003 NHL Entry Draft, the same one that saw new teammate Patrice Bergeron selected 17 spots ahead by the Bruins in Nashville.Now, 13 years later, the most senior member of the B’s was credited by Backes as one of the key players who reached out to him this week and helped sell him on leaving the only NHL home he’s ever known to try and get Boston back on a winning track.

“He, personally, was one of the guys that I was able to talk to,” Backes said in an afternoon conference call. “I can maybe flatter a little bit now that he’s my teammate, but I hate giving players credit, giving them any edge, when I’m playing against them. But he’s a guy you were pissed at by the end of the game because he never made a mistake. That’s a good way to be successful defensively and then, by the end of the game he typically was producing something [on the] offensive side of the score sheet, too – just a guy that you can’t take a shift off because he’s going to make you pay.

“If you’re going to get anything done against him, he’s always in the right spots, he’s winning draws against you, he’s a fearless competitor, he just keeps going and keeps his mind focused on what he needs to achieve during the game. He’s a winner. He’s won a gold medal, to my dismay. He’s also won a Stanley Cup. You can’t discredit any of those great achievements that he’s had.”

That Backes would have such immense respect for a player of Bergeron’s caliber is not surprising in the least. Natural competitors and leaders gravitate towards one another, after all. And, as the Minnesota native would later reference in his various remarks, those leaders are the ones most responsible for instilling and maintaining a winning culture that everyone in the room gets on board with.

“We need a cohesive leadership group that’s made up of prominent players that have a loud voice and walk the walk and not just talk the talk,” he said. “If you have that – a good four to five guys with those qualities – the rest of the team has no option but to jump on board and fall in line. If that’s what you have, that pretty much cracks the whip on everyone else and that’s going to breed a ton of success.”

Leadership and character alone is not enough, however. Immediate concerns about the signing have cropped up primarily related to the newest Bruin’s age and diminishing returns in terms of his statistics, finishing the year with 21 goals- his lowest output since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign.

“Feeling really well,” Backes replied when asked about the toll his rugged brand of hockey over more than a decade has taken on his body. “I think that physical style has been one of my calling cards for 10 years, and I think maybe if you start to slow down a little bit, and you get a little bit older, your intelligence and your hockey sense and your ability to think the game is accelerating maybe faster than you’re slowing down. And those types of efforts to be efficient I think make – in my world, I think it’s made me a better player, and been able to carry that physical play and pick my spots at key moments, rather than just hitting everything that moves like it’s a rugby match.”

In other words, the old horse isn’t ready for the glue factory quite yet.

“Being able to perhaps finish on certain guys on the other team and other ones, it’s not worth going the extra two, three steps out of your way to expend that energy and to go for that hit,” Backes said.  “I’m 32. I’m not 52. I think there’s plenty of legs and plenty of physicality and energy left in me and the term’s been something that maybe a few people have questioned, but for me, I expect to still be at the top of my game for that last year and be a contributing member for the Boston Bruins and training differences, being able to really take care of my body, listening to it and just give everything I’ve got and I think that’s the way I’m going about it and I would expect to be really good in that fifth year still.”

All the heart and want to in the world won’t matter if the machine breaks down or the player is unable to match the previously high-end performance that he was known for as a member of the Blues who spent the last five years wearing the captain’s ‘C’.

Boston GM Don Sweeney naturally sold his signature acquisition to date as someone who will be part of a winning formula going forward, even though the more pressing need of at least one defensive piece to upgrade the back end was conspicuously absent from his list of transactions today.

“We identified David from day one as the type of player that would play with and complement Patrice and David Krejci and allow us to have flexibility, be it this year with, you know, if he wants to move to the wing in a production role or a matchup role,” Sweeney said.  “You know if you look at the defensive zone starts that David Backes had over the course of his career, it’s phenomenal that he’s produced at the level he has. He’s now got the chance now to play either with Patrice or David Krejci or play amongst them in a balanced lineup that allows him to be in an offensive situation with Krejci and maybe even backup Bergeron from that standpoint. So I think it adds the balance to our group, you know. And if Ryan Spooner continues to emerge and play the way that he’s capable of playing on a consistent basis and David Backes moves to the wing we’re going to be a better organization.”

Despite some of the more advanced analytics that showed Backes’ effectiveness in positive puck possession declining, Sweeney pointed out that the veteran still represents a clear upgrade for the B’s going forward.

“We have on the horizon a number of young, skilled players that I think will benefit, as I mentioned, will continue to play with Marchand, with Bergeron, with Krejci, and now with a Backes type,” Sweeney said. “He can then slide into players that come in and identify themselves handling bigger roles, then he can slide into different positions. I just think the versatility of this player and the leadership qualities speak for themselves.

“And his production, we expect it to continue. It took a drop this year, but that’s the age-related studies that everybody looks at and realizes that you know what you’ve signed up for in this player, that if the commitment to the term and from the ownership standpoint, we were all on board. We’re trying to win. The number of players we have, as I mentioned, with the younger players, I think it’s going to be a good complement.”

Not always the most fleet of foot, Backes is one of those more powerful skaters who uses a full head of steam to drive the net and score goals through grit and will as opposed to generating a highlight reel package off the rush. As he gets older, the foot speed and quickness are sure to diminish, so Backes addressed what is likely in store with him in the lineup.

“I don’t think the game’s getting slower,” he said. “I think that it’s a fast game, but if you start to manage the puck in the right way, and you can occupy the offensive zone and do a lot of the things that teams that are heavy and control the puck and occupy zones do, it’s not a track meet up and down the ice.”

The track meet…something the Bruins have been ill-prepared to compete in for years, even as the NHL has undergone a clear paradigm shift to more of a speed/transition and skill game, is one of the chief concerns among observers and fans who saw the team often unable to match the pace and tempo of those higher-end clubs who were among those playing well into late May and June.

“With Pittsburgh winning the Cup, a team that was kind of designed on that track meet, let’s go, let’s see who can skate the fastest up and down the ice, there may be a trend or a tendency to start to build teams like that,” said Backes.  “But you’ve also seen other teams in the L.A. Kings, the Boston Bruins, in recent history, win playing that heavy game, and maybe not having the fastest team, but winning every battle that you get into, being able to control the puck once you get it and then owning the important areas of the ice which is in front of the net.”

The consistent net-front presence, which is something Backes is sure to provide, is another area the Bruins have been lacking in. They’ve also lacked a consistent set of forward lines, which is something the newest free agent vowed to address, even though there was discussion about what position might have been promised to him ahead of time.

“I’m into winning games, so if Claude (Julien) thinks that we’re going to win more games with me playing wing then I’m in,” Backes said.  “If he thinks that we’re going to win more games with me playing center, I’m in. Whatever he thinks, you know, I’ll do it to the best of my ability. And you know it’s one of those things where it may be schedule dependent, it may be opponent dependent, it may be dependent on a bunch of different variables, but we’re going to have a game plan to win and we’re going to go out there and execute it.”

Sweeney echoed the sentiment of being flexible and basing it on ideal matches, allowing the coaches to leverage the veteran’s flexibility.

“We’re going to let it play out,” he said. “We look at the fact that the penalty killing was an area that we needed to address. He’s really good at that.”

Center or wing? Wing or center? Don’t expect to have it figured out in July.

“The strength up the middle of the ice, as I mentioned. Ryan Spooner, it will be a great challenge for him to occupy that spot or play next to one of these centers,” Sweeney said. “The guys that emerge as being able to handle the minutes and the situations are the ones that are going to play. It’s just a real good opportunity for anybody, any younger player coming into this organization is going to be put in position to play with really unique players. And we’ll find the right complements.

“If that means David gets to move to the wall to play with one of the top two guys in a producing role, that’s okay. We’ve now been in a position where if we want to go four deep, which we generally have when we’ve had success, where’s the matchup come from the other side? The other teams may find it difficult to play against the top centers that we have. So we’re going to let it play out.”

Ultimately, there are those who will embrace Boston’s newest acquisition and what he could bring the team, even if they acknowledge that Sweeney and Co. are accepting risk by offering term and value on a player who is on the wrong side of 30. Those are entirely valid concerns, but at the same time- it is not a zero sum game. Backes is a hands-on leader who will complement Boston’s existing leadership core, several of whom tend to be a little more quiet and passive as opposed to direct and confrontational. The B’s have no problem with leaders who set the right example, but when players aren’t pulling their weight or doing the things necessary for team cohesion and success, Backes is the kind of guy who will likely get in someone’s face. He’s got the proper body of work and cachet to do it, too- whether he wears an ‘A’ on his Bruins sweater or not won’t matter one bit.

“You talk about the character piece, the leadership qualities and his willingness to want to win and it aligns with the guys that have won,” Sweeney said. “And the more we can surround our team and identify our team in that regard – now, this all being said, that our younger players have to step forward, emerge, have the opportunity to take a hold of it, and these guys are going to be the leading core to get us to where we want to go, and our younger players have to jump on board.”

Backes sees the world in relatively straight forward fashion, and that was evident when he addressed his desire to make Boston his new hockey home:

“Every time I had a conversation with someone from the organization, that kind of goosebump feeling on your arms and that emotional connection and thought process towards what it would be like to maybe have a different sweater and be able to join what they’re trying to do in Boston really just kept building,” Backes said. “And then the opportunity presented itself not too long after 11 (a.m.) struck. Once (the agent) and Don Sweeney figured out the numbers, it was let’s move on with this and sign the deal because it makes so much sense on so many levels.”

This signing might not make sense on as many levels to some, but one of Boston’s priorities in the offseason was to get tougher to play against, and they succeeded on paper with the Backes acquisition. Time will tell if it will work out as planned, but for now- one veteran is in the fold to help shore up an offense that lost Loui Eriksson’s 30 goals and strong two-way play to Vancouver.

There is still much work to be done, however, with a blue line that is still at least one key upgrade away from being playoff caliber.

The July 1st transactions were a start, but the offseason grade is still incomplete.

 

2015-16 Boston Bruins in Red Line over the years

I have every Red Line Report draft guide going back to 1999, the first year that the service issued the guide in its known format.

Periodically, I go back and look at what the draft year scouting reports and rankings looked like, so I thought that to help get the juices flowing in anticipation for the 2016 draft (as if the B’s draft strategy post from last night wasn’t enough, right?) I’d do the exercise for all of you here on the blog and take a trip in the wayback machine (or in the case of David Pastrnak– not so wayback) and see what you all think.

I’ll do it in numerical order on the Boston roster, so here we go:

11- Jimmy Hayes, RW Drafted: 2008 (2nd round- Toronto)

Red Line ranking: 146

Key comment: “Huge kid with good hands has wasted a lot of talent.”

2016 verdict: At the time, 146 was excessively low for where the Leafs drafted Hayes, but he hasn’t exactly proven RLR wrong, either. Few players did more to frustrate observers this season than Hayes. He’s huge but doesn’t play to his size, but the biggest issue was with how his offense cratered at crunch time. It’s tough to play with heightened expectations and pressures that come with coming home to be on the team you dreamed of skating for, but Hayes has the raw material to at least become a more consistent contributor going forward without the profound peaks and valleys he went through.

14- Brett Connolly, RW Drafted: 2010 (1st round- Tampa Bay)

Red Line ranking: 13

Key comment: “Great talent; only injury keeps him out of top-5.”

2016 verdict: Connolly has been anything but a “great” talent as a pro. It’s hard to fathom where the sixth overall selection six years ago went wrong, but he might be out of time in Boston, even though he only recently turned 24. If the B’s could figure out a way to get him going, it would be huge for them. He’s been a huge disappointment thus far, if not an outright bust given how highly regarded he was by just about everyone in 2010.

20- Lee Stempniak, RW Drafted: 2003 (5th round- St. Louis)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

2016 verdict: Oversight! Stempniak has been a serviceable NHL winger since breaking in with the Blues in 2005-06 after Dartmouth. He’s played almost 800 career NHL games for 9 teams- the modern-era Brent Ashton.

21- Loui Eriksson, RW/LW Drafted: 2003 (2nd round- Dallas)

Red Line ranking: 59

Key comment: “Came on like gangbusters down the stretch.”

2016 verdict: Eriksson was one of Boston’s top players last season, and despite not being traded at the deadline, was a good Bruin after being the central piece in the disastrous Tyler Seguin return from 2013. At 31, he’s set to cash in on a free agent payday, which means it won’t happen in Boston, but he’s performed well ahead of the 59th overall projection from 13 years ago.

23- Chris Kelly, C/W  Drafted: 1999 (3rd round- Ottawa)

Red Line ranking: 78

Key comment: “Tenacious and relentless in puck pursuit.”

2016 verdict: Although a broken femur cost Kelly all but 11 games of the 2015-16 season, he has gone on to have a successful NHL career as a checking center who was a key contributor to Boston’s Stanley Cup championship in 2011. The veteran has been a Boston scapegoat because of the 4-year contract extension he got in 2012 coming off a career-best 20 goals, but he’s been pretty much exactly what RLR said he would be and has always brought character and leadership to any team he’s been on.

26- John-Michael Liles, D Drafted: 2000 (5th round- Colorado)

Red Line ranking: 159

Key comment: “Another small offensively-skilled d-man.”

2016 verdict: After being drafted 159th overall, the Avalanche took Liles exactly where RLR had him in their 2000 draft guide. 800 NHL games later, Liles has shown that the size bias that clearly existed 16 years ago had little impact on his ability to play at the highest level. He’s been a successful puck-moving, offensive defenseman over the life of his career, albeit one who is a complementary piece and more of a power play performer than a true difference-maker at present.

29- Landon Ferraro, LW Drafted: 2009 (2nd round- Detroit)

Red Line ranking: 38

Key comment: “Everybody like’s Ray’s kid more than we do.”

2016 verdict: Looks like RLR was onto something…Originally projected as a top-six scorer at the NHL level, Ferraro finally established himself at in the big show after Boston plucked him from the Red Wings off of waivers. However, seven years after being one of the first picks of the second round, he looks like a capable grinder, but has demonstrated none of the impressive upside he had in his draft year with Red Deer. Speedy and smart, Ferraro doesn’t have the high-end skills to be a top scorer, but looks like a solid role player who will likely bounce around.

30- Jeremy Smith, G Drafted:  2007 (2nd round- Nashville)

Red Line ranking: 29

Key comment: “Long, lean flexible netminder is the best of a mediocre crop.”

2016 verdict: Yikes! First-round billing even with that caveat for a player who has yet to play an NHL game. Although, for what it’s worth- Scott Darling is the only goalie of note to come out of the 1989-born class. Smith, who came to Boston as a free agent two years ago, has yet to suit up for an NHL game, although he’s been very good in the AHL.

33- Zdeno Chara, D Drafted: 1996 (3rd round- NY Islanders)

Red Line ranking: not available

2016 verdict: Future HHOFer and Stanley Cup champion has been Boston’s captain since the 6-9 d-man signed a decade ago, but Father Time has caught up to him. The great draft value pick (77th overall) by Mike Milbury 20 years ago turns 40 this season and Boston’s priority must be to surround him with a better supporting cast. Given how low he was out of the radar in Slovakia, it is doubtful he would have been high on anyone’s list back then.

37- Patrice Bergeron, C Drafted: 2003 (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 71

Key comment: “Not big or fast but smart and productive.”

2016 verdict: Missed opportunity! When I was scouting the U18s with my Red Line boss Kyle Woodlief, the subject of Bergeron came up and he ruefully admitted that he missed on him rankings-wise. Woodlief really liked him (as evidenced by the comment above) but said Bergeron had two things working against him at the time: 1- he had only played the 1 season in the QMJHL in his draft year after spending his 16-YO year in midget AAA; and 2- Acadie-Bathurst is an out-of-the-way hockey backwater. No excuses- RLR got it wrong, but the Bruins and Scott Bradley didn’t, at the time “reaching” for Patrice when other sexier names were available (the team used the compensation pick they got from the NHL when Bill Guerin bolted for Dallas to take Bergeron, btw). He wanted Bergeron in the 1st round that year, but the team knew they could roll the dice and get him at 45 whereas Mark Stuart would not have been there for them in the 2nd. If they had known how important Bergeron would be to this franchise, they never would have risked it, but that’s the draft for you. Bergeron’s #37 will one day hang from the TD Garden rafters, and he’s got a shot at the Hockey Hall of Fame when all is said and done. As Chris Kelly likes to say, Bergeron is Boston’s “Mr Everything”- a modern-day Milt Schmidt if you will.

39- Matt Beleskey, LW Drafted: 2006 (4th round- Anaheim)

Red Line ranking: 122

Key comment: “Playing against him is like nails on a chalkboard.”

2016 verdict: Correctly projected for the draft, but a little low given what he provides as a solid third-liner. After signing as a free agent last July, the former Belleville Bull was arguably Boston’s most consistent player wire-to-wire last season, he delivered what the team was looking for. Obviously, you’d like to see more goals after he topped the 20-goal mark the previous year with the Ducks, but he set a new high in assists and points, provided a large amount of hits and was that gritty leader by example type the Bruins need.

40- Tuukka Rask, G Drafted: 2005 (1st round- Toronto)

Red Line ranking: 14

Key comment: “Wins our annual Mr. Gumby flexibility award.”

2016 verdict: The former Vezina Trophy winner had an up and down season but Carey Price and Rask were RLR’s top goalies in the 2005 draft and that’s how it’s played out in their careers as both have been recognized as the top player at their position (with Price earning a league MVP nod as well). When on top of his game, Rask is an elite puck stopper, but he’s also shown that like most, with a porous defense in front of him, he can’t carry the team on his back. It will be interesting to see what the Bruins do with him in the long term, as he turns 30 next March and will be in the fourth of the seven-year extension he signed in 2013 that is a $7-million annual chunk of change on Boston’s cap.

 

44- Dennis Seidenberg, D Drafted: 2001 (6th round- Philadelphia)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

2016 verdict: It was a tough season for the game but rapidly declining German. He signed a four-year, $16M extension in the 2013-14 season, only to suffer a catastrophic knee injury shortly thereafter, costing him the rest of the campaign. He hasn’t been the same player since, losing mobility (he wasn’t ever a plus skater to begin with) and effectiveness as an aging defender who struggles to be the effective shutdown presence he was from 2010-14. The B’s could be looking at trading him or buying him out (he has two years remaining on his contract at $4M per), but he’s been counted on to log a lot of minutes on the second pairing without much effectiveness over the last two seasons.

 

45- Joe Morrow, D Drafted: 2011 (1st round- Pittsburgh)

Red Line ranking: 30

Key comment: “Few made bigger strides than this fine puck mover.”

2016 verdict: It looks like RLR had it right, as Morrow has made the NHL and shows flashes, but has not yet established himself as a regular. The Penguins made Morrow their top choice in 2011 (23rd overall) after he impressed with his skating, passing and shot as a member of the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. He was dealt to Dallas for veteran Brenden Morrow (no relation) in 2013. He was then moved to Boston as part of the Seguin trade a few months later on July 4. The skating and the passing are clearly evident, but Morrow has not asserted himself all that much in the Boston lineup, playing a relatively conservative brand of game. The more you watch him, the more you start to come to the conclusion that he’s essentially a complementary 4/5 defender who could thrive on a deeper blue line corps, but isn’t going to emerge as a top performer and one who can carry the mail.

 

46- David Krejci, C Drafted: 2004 (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 130

Key comment: “Tiny but great hockey sense.”

2016 verdict: Like Bergeron, the B’s got outstanding value from a player who was ranked far too low by Red Line in his draft year. In fact, Krejci wasn’t really regarded by anyone- Central Scouting rated him just 21st overall on their Euro ranking behind such luminaries Rostislav Olesz, Lauri Tukonen, Kirill Lyamin and Sergei Ogorodnikov to name a few. Because Boston had traded their first- and second-round picks that year to Washington for Sergei Gonchar, Krejci’s selection at the end of the second round (from Los Angeles via Detroit for Jozef Stumpel in a deal made a year earlier at the 2003 draft) was met with a collective shrug, but 12 years later, he’s broken into Boston’s all-time top-20 scorers list and has been one of the team’s best offensive players during his tenure. Unfortunately for Krejci, his hot start cooled off considerably, aided by a hip injury that required offseason surgery. Because he’s got a small frame, the physical toll on him is starting to catch up, making his $7.25M annual cap hit and lengthy extension done by Peter Chiarelli in the 2014-15 season something to watch. On sheer achievement alone, however- Krejci’s career numbers (even better in the playoffs when Boston has gotten in) have made his draft rankings look silly. After Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, who went 1-2 overall that year, Krejci is the third most productive player of the 2004 class.

 

47- Torey Krug, D Undrafted: 2012 (Free Agent- Boston)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

2016 verdict: The undersized former Michigan State captain posted career highs for assists and points, but his goal totals fell off a cliff, finishing with just four tallies. Despite being a productive defenseman not only in the USHL, where he helped the Indiana Ice win a Clark Cup championship, but in three seasons at Michigan State where he was named captain in just his second year in East Lansing, Krug got nary a sniff on anyone’s rankings. In hindsight, he was dinged for size bias, but has become a go-to player for the Bruins since they signed him in the spring of 2012 and he burst onto the NHL scene against the Rangers in the second round of the 2013 playoffs. He’s due a new contract, but as currently constructed, no one else on the Boston defense can do what Krug can. With the right partner, he could be even more effective and productive than he’s been so far. The low goal totals were an aberration, but consider this- if he had scored his usual 12-15 markers this past season, he’d be in line to get a lot more on his next deal. The down season in goals might be a blessing in disguise for Boston when it comes to negotiations, but anyone who doesn’t think he’ll get $5M at least is fooling themselves. The B’s will pay the market rate and if Minnesota’s Jared Spurgeon got it, so will Krug- he’s a better player.

 

48- Colin Miller, D Drafted:2012 (5th round- Los Angeles)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

2016 verdict: Swing and a miss for RLR on a player who was first eligible in 2011 and played very little for the Soo Greyhounds but caught the eye of the Kings after attending their development camp and was drafted a year later. Acquired in the Milan Lucic trade, Miller made the big club out of camp but had trouble staying in the lineup. He has some of the most impressive skills of any Boston defenseman but his defensive instincts and decision-making are a work in progress. Many fans wanted “Chiller” in the lineup over Kevan “Killer” Miller, but the Boston coaches saw things differently. The younger Miller has the ever-desired upside, but he’s also got a lot to learn about playing the position, as he was a healthy scratch down in Providence during the season after being sent down. This is the kind of thing that fans sometimes don’t pick up on- it’s one thing for the Boston coaches to pull a player from the lineup, but when the AHL coaches do as well, then there’s obviously something there that the player isn’t doing. Miller still has impressive potential as a late-born 1992, but he benefited from shiny new toy syndrome last year. Now, he needs to work to demonstrate his value and worth as a two-way D, not just someone who can bring the offense.

 

50- Jonas Gustavsson, G Undrafted: 2009 (Free Agent- Toronto)

Red Line ranking: 1*- on RLR draft guide’s top-10 European free agents list

Key comment: “Extremely flexible and smooth side-to-side.”

2016 verdict: “The Monster” was the top free agent target in 2009 and got a big ticket deal with the Leafs, but never really had the kind of anticipated impact given his tremendous performance in Sweden before coming over. Injuries have contributed to him never really establishing himself as a top-flight No. 1 in the NHL, but after being a training camp invite last year, he played well for the Bruins as a backup. It is unfortunate that in the last game of the season against Ottawa, when Rask couldn’t go due to illness and the B’s took a 1-0 lead, that Gustavsson ended up playing a pretty mediocre game. The team collapsed in front of him, but he didn’t do them many favors, either. Don’t expect a reprise for the 31-year-old in Boston this year.

 

51- Ryan Spooner, C Drafted: 2010 (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 29

Key comment: “Creative playmaker was derailed by injury.”

2016 verdict: A power play weapon, Spooner had his peaks and valleys at even strength but completed his first full NHL season by establishing career highs in all categories. He was drafted 45th overall in 2010, and in retrospect, he should have been picked 32nd overall by Boston with Jared Knight going at 45 (well, if the team had a do-over Knight wouldn’t have been picked at all in the round, but spilt milk). Spooner has outperformed some ranked before him and many after, but it has taken him a while to establish himself in Claude Julien’s system. Truth be told- Bruins fans are fortunate that he’s still in the organization given the way things appeared to be headed in early 2015. He’s got the NHL talent to be a top-two center, but in Boston, he’s got to figure out how to be consistent and impactful as their third-line guy. T’s worth noting that when Krejci was injured in late December and Spooner moved to the second line for several weeks, he played the best NHL hockey of his career.

 

54- Adam McQuaid, D Drafted: 2005 (2nd round- Columbus)

Red Line ranking: 68

Key comment: “Nobody talks about him but he has good raw tools.”

2016 verdict: When it comes to toughness and rugged play on the back end, they don’t come much more game than “Quaider.” He was a surprise late second-round pick by Columbus but his skating was an even bigger issue then than it is now. Facing the prospect of not signing him and losing him to free agency, the Blue Jackets traded McQuaid to Boston in late May, 2007 for a fifth-round pick. That draft choice, subsequently flipped to Dallas, ended up being none other than Jamie Benn. Go figure. McQuaid is a great guy- one of the best I have covered on the Bruins in my 16 years with NEHJ, but he’s limited and has never played a complete, injury-free season. Oh, and he turns 30 in October, too. There have been whispers that at least one NHL team has expressed interest in him, so don’t be surprised to see a trade at some point this offseason. It would at least begin to explain why the Bruins locked up Kevan Miller.

 

62- Zach Trotman, D Drafted: 2010 (7th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

2016 verdict: The final player selected in the 2010 NHL draft has appeared in games with Boston for each of the past three seasons, but this could be it for the Indiana native and Lake Superior State product. He has NHL size and skating, but found himself often the odd-man out on a crowded blue line with similar mid-to-lower tier defenders who all bring something similar to the table. Trotman worked hard to reach the NHL and is a solid citizen who could hook on in a different organization that has need for his ability as a serviceable role player.

 

63- Brad Marchand, LW Drafted: 2006 (3rd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 115

Key comment: “Super skilled little waterbug with some jam.”

2016 verdict: Marchand was the team’s best success stories in a tough season after setting personal bests in goals and points. Red Line had him ranked lower than he went (early third round) and Marchand has been the most productive of any player selected in the same round that year. He’s a top performer and goal threat, despite his lack of height and stature. Some of what might have contributed to his lower draft ranking was off-ice/maturity concerns, but to Marchand’s credit, he’s established himself as a Boston regular and fan favorite, albeit one who still lets his emotions get the best of him on occasion, but who has become one of the team’s top performers in the clutch. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2017…cha-ching! Boston can begin negotiating with him this year on an extension to prevent that from happening, but it’s going to cost a lot.

 

64- Tyler Randell, RW Drafted: 2009 (6th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 164

Key comment: “He will go higher than this but frustrates us greatly.”

2016 verdict: Actually, he went right about where RLR said he should, which is interesting. The late-rounder out of Belleville and Kitchener of the OHL. Randell made his NHL debut for Boston and provided more value for scoring vs. minutes played than anyone in the lineup. Although often a healthy scratch and relegated to bottom line duty, Randell made the most of his gifts: slick hands and toughness. He’s got heavy feet, but hits like a truck and is a good fighter. The knock on him in junior was motivation and consistency, but he put in the work and Boston stuck with him, finally seeing their late-round investment pay some dividends.

86- Kevan Miller, D Undrafted: 2011 (Free agent- Boston)

Red Line ranking: Unranked

2016 verdict: The former Berkshire School and University of Vermont captain (from California) is as tough as nails and willed himself into the NHL after showing little big league potential at the lower levels. When used in the right role, Miller is capable. The challenge for Boston is that injuries and declining play elsewhere in the lineup caused Julien to use Miller in significant situations, and some of his limitations were exposed. For an undrafted free agent, he’s been a pleasant surprise, but without a top skill set, he’s more of a depth player thrust into a bigger role than suits him. That’s an issue.

88- David Pastrnak, RW Drafted: 2014 (1st round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 14

Key comment: “Smallish, but fiery and passionate. Lives to score.”

2016 verdict: RLR was ahead of the curve here, as Pastrnak slid down to 25th overall mostly because of a concussion that forced him out of the lineup during the key months of Jan-Mar. He made the NHL at age 18 and was a breath of fresh air for the Bruins and their fans in 2015. Last season was a bit of a step back for Pastrnak largely due to a fractured foot suffered on a shot off the skate in late October, but the foundation is in place for the future face of the franchise. He’s got a good attitude and is willing to work- the Bruins just desperately need Pastrnak to continue his upward developmental trajectory and blossom into the 30+ goal man he’s capable of becoming.

Observations:

  1. The glaring thing that sticks out is a lack of production in the Bruins drafts to account for the current roster. Of all the B’s regulars, only one- Pastrnak (14)- carries a top-15 draft ranking by Red Line. Connolly was ranked 13th, but would have carried a higher grade if not for a hip injury that caused him to miss most of the 2009-10 season. Rask was ranked 14th overall in 2005, but he was drafted by Toronto at 21st overall- just one spot ahead of Boston (Matt Lashoff) and acquired in a 2006 trade for Andrew Raycroft. Of all the other players drafted by the B’s- only Spooner (29) was a projected first-rounder (Morrow at 30, but he was drafted by PIT). There are no top-10 draft-projected (by RLR) players anywhere on Boston’s active roster.
  2. Phil Kessel (2), Tyler Seguin (2) and Dougie Hamilton (5) are the highest-rated Red Line guys Boston drafted going back 10 years, but they’re helping other teams. Ironically, Seguin and Hamilton were both had for Kessel…all the B’s have left to show for moving Seguin to Dallas is Morrow and possibly Eriksson if he re-signs in Boston. As for Hamilton, the jury is out- Zach Senyshyn, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Jeremy Lauzon might all be a part of the future equation in Boston as the three players selected with draft choices acquired from Calgary for the 2011 first-rounder.
  3. Boston’s top players Bergeron (71), Marchand (115) and Krejci (130) weren’t even ranked in the top-50 of their draft seasons. The Bruins selected all three and cultivated them as homegrown stars- where would the team be without them?
  4. Only one player- Chara- had no record to consult with Red Line, but six roster regulars in 2015-16 were not even ranked by RLR: Stempniak, Seidenberg, Krug, C. Miller, K. Miller and Trotman.

Conclusion: The Bruins simply must get more production from their drafts. They’ve managed to make some value picks over the years, but management frittered away most of the high-end talent and it shows in the club’s current trajectory. No team escapes failure in the draft process to a certain degree, but when you look at how many undrafted players or guys who were not projected as impact contributors are on the roster and being employed in big roles, the importance of Boston improving their drafting and development efforts is even more critical.

I will continue the exercise with the Boston prospects to see if we have some similar trends, keeping in mind that there is no guarantee of success for them at the NHL, even if they appear to be on a solid developmental track. Watch for that post to hit in the next 24 hours.