Vesey to Sabres and other pre-draft notes

 

It probably was not all that surprising about the news that broke Monday about the Buffalo Sabres and GM Tim Murray acquiring Jimmy Vesey’s rights from Nashville for one of three third-round picks that rebuilding team has in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.

Why is it not a surprise? Well, for one thing- Predators GM David Poile “burned the boats” with Vesey when he went public and essentially told everyone the kid lied to him. That was impulsive and shortsighted, as all that did was guarantee 100 percent that Vesey had no chance of coming around and agreeing to terms with the team that spent a third-round pick on him in 2012, only to see him declare his option to leverage free agency (per the CBA) four years later. We figured from the get-go that someone would try to trade for Vesey’s exclusive negotiating rights at some point, so, as Murray himself said- Why not Buffalo?

The Vesey matter is made more complex by the human element in the case. At arm’s length, there seems to be no smoking gun, no clear reason for his walking away from Nashville. Although it’s a small market team, the Predators are on the rise, and Music City is a neat place to play hockey in. There was talk that Vesey was turned off by the Nashville organization’s pressure sales pitch, and that he didn’t want to play for them right away, but preferred to finish out his semester at Harvard and then look at signing. As of now, that’s all that is- talk. We’ve heard what the team thinks, and Vesey himself has declined to weigh in on it, so as of now all we know is- by virtue of Monday’s trade, Buffalo now jumps into the ring as the one team that can negotiate with him between now and the August 15 deadline, and if he signs, then it will be a third-round pick well spent for them.

Vesey’s camp (agent Peter Fish) issued a statement Monday, saying that the player still intends to pursue free agency. Murray, who never met a microphone he didn’t like (and I don’t mean that as a slight- he’s long been one of the most open sources of information out there) has been open about his intent to leverage Vesey’s connection to 2015 Hobey Baker Award winner and second overall pick Jack Eichel to try and sway the 2016 Hobey recipient to put aside the free agency designs and ink an ELC with the Sabres.

This does not mean Boston is out of the Vesey sweeps, however- they just have a tougher hill to climb.  I’ve seen on the internet in at least one location that I called Vesey to the Bruins as a “sure thing.” That gentleman is clearly mistaken, and should perhaps focus his efforts on some reading comprehension skills enhancement. The Bruins were clearly in the mix for a Vesey landing spot because he’s a North Reading kid and dreamed of playing for Boston, but that does not mean that when he opted out of Nashville that the Bruins and Vesey coming together was fait accompli. I think folks should pay better attention to things and not misrepresent clear positions on internet message boards and articles, but that’s just me.

Next move belongs to Murray and the Sabres and we’ll see where it all leads- he has a little less than 60 days to make inroads and land his big fish.

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We’re just a few days from the big event in Buffalo- the Scouting Post (TSP) will be there, but much of the coverage I provide will be via Twitter, as I do not plan to do extensive blog posts from the event. You can expect a couple of wave top assessments, but the more in-depth coverage will come next week after I can interview sources at the draft and provide a more comprehensive analysis of what the Bruins did or did not accomplish. For breaking news and quick hits- I encourage you to follow my Twitter account- @kluedeke29 and I will keep things up to date as the draft rolls on.

On another note- my boss at Red Line Report Kyle Woodlief- and yours truly will be broadcasting with Tony Marinaro, hockey radio host with TSN 690 out of Montreal from the First Niagara Center in Buffalo on Friday. We’ll spend about an hour on the air with Tony from 11-noon on draft day, so if you can tune in- you’ll get your fill of pre-draft talk with the Red Line guys.

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I’ve seen apples and oranges talk about Chilliwack D Dennis Cholowski and Dante Fabbro recently and I’m honestly not sure what the point is here. Cholowski is a meteoric riser in the second half after a strong finish and yes- his Chiefs did knock off Fabbro and Tyson Jost’s Penticton Vees in the BCHL playoffs. It’s fine to be high on Cholowski- he’s a solid first-round candidate and has some impressive tools, but what I don’t get is this urge to play the “Cholowski is better than Fabbro” game I’ve seen out there in a couple of spots.

First of all- if Cholowski gets drafted ahead of Fabbro, I’ll buy you a beer. It’s not happening. Secondly- the world does not have to be a zero sum existence- it is possible that both players are going to be very good. They bring different things to the table, but I’ll defer to other NHL scouts who saw both Cholowski and Fabbro at the World Jr. A Challenge and think that the latter was the far more impactful player.  Are there differences of opinion out there? Absolutely. And it is possible that Cholowski could eventually be the better player than Fabbro is at the NHL level.

But that doesn’t mean he’s done enough to be considered a viable option at the 10-15 range. Fabbro is no sure thing either, but one guy was the BCHL’s top defenseman and the other guy wasn’t. Let’s not make more of this than it is- both D look like nice options going forward, and anyone can make a case of one over the other, but unless things change on Friday, Fabbro is trending to be selected ahead of Cholowski. I’m curious to see if the whisper campaign out there to elevate him is agenda-driven or not, but for now- I’m sticking to my guns. I have Fabbro rated higher than the other guy, but believe both are first-rounders and have nice long-term potential in the NHL on the back end.

So- just to be clear. I like Fabbro. I like Cholowski. They’re both good. There is absolutely no need to tear down one to build up the other. But realistically, one guy is going to get drafted in the top-20 and one probably a little outside that range. I have to think both guys appeal to the Bruins, but in all likelihood- they’ll only have a shot at one of them. As things stand right now- that player is Fabbro in my view.

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As suspected Julien Gauthier is getting a lot of attention in Boston circles and I don’t really get it.

He’s huge, he skates well and has soft hands. He also doesn’t think the game well at all- the hockey IQ is a major, major question mark. When are folks going to realize that toolsy players without the toolbox constitute needless risks? Let some other team jump on Gauthier, but  to me- he’s not going to be the best player available in the top-15 when Boston’s turn comes.

Gauthier had a blistering start and made hay at the WJC, but once again- people are focused on the past and are not paying attention to how the player trended over the second half. There are major question marks surrounding this guy, and as said before- I believe that right-shooting defensemen will constitute not only best value at 14 but also fill a need for the Bruins. That’s a two-for-one deal, and I’m not sure Gauthier  makes much sense that early- fans are still living in the past of about six months on this guy.

The B’s can wait a bit and grab a winger like Wade Allison, Cameron Morrison or Taylor Raddysh maybe even a Timmy Gettinger or Brett Murray and boost the depth and size/heavy-on-the-puck play on the wings without spending a top-15 selection on someone with real concerns about how well he sees the ice and processes the game/has the creativity to be a scorer at the next level.

That doesn’t mean Gauthier will be a failure, but I do believe he’s another one of those guys benefiting from past accomplishments, but doesn’t have a lot of buzz or the confidence of NHL clubs coming into the draft. We’ll soon find out.

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For some late-round value, I like Minnesota forward Jack Walker– he scored 36 goals for the Victoria Royals this season as a 1996-born guy previously passed up. He’s a converted forward who played D up until a few years ago, but can skate, pass and shoot. I’m told the B’s were sniffing around him in the WHL rinks this year and it makes sense- he’s a guy who represents a more pro-ready proposition to enter the system and be closer to contributing than most other 18-year-olds available from the 1998-birth year pool.

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That’s all for now…I’m going to post one more mock draft and do a final Bruins draft projection audio file tonight and then it’s off to Buffalo. Remember- follow me on Twitter because there won’t be a lot of blog posts on here between Friday and Monday beyond a few quick-hitters to recap the players Boston grabs.

 

 

Thoughts on Central Scouting’s 2016 NHL Entry Draft watch list

We’re still a couple of months away from Central Scouting’s annual midseason rankings, but the NHL’s amateur talent evaluation staff released the watch list they put out every year as the new season gets underway.

In this particular iteration, the CSS does not rank the players, but organizes the players by league/competition level and assigns each an A, B or C grade. Players with ‘A’ grades are expected first-round selections next June. ‘B’ players are expected draft selections and the ‘C’ players are on the bubble but have a shot- hence the use of the “players to watch” to describe the list.

But enough with the administrativa…here are some thoughts on a few of the players on the list I have some knowledge about through live and online viewing, not to mention discussions with NHL scouting sources. This is by no means a comprehensive list- my position with Red Line Report limits my ability to go into exhaustive detail, but my hope is to give the readership a good starting point for further research.

Vitaly Abramov, LW Gatineau (QMJHL) 5-9, 172 (B)- Little but electrifying winger brings pure speed and dynamic puckhandling and creativity to the table. Impressive start and he’ll likely rise as the year goes on because of his upside.

Kieffer Bellows, LW U.S. NTDP (USHL) 6-0, 196 (A)- Son of former NHL 50-goal man Brian Bellows is a Boston University recruit and native Minnesotan with a knack for finding the back of the net. He’s a good skater but has the scorer’s instincts, hands and heavy shot to finish off chances.

Tyler Benson, LW Vancouver (WHL) 6-0, 200 (A)- Injuries slowed his start as he has yet to get in on the regular season with the Giants, but this edgy scoring winger has the tools and pro attributes to be an early pick and eventual NHL star. He was impressive in helping Canada to yet another gold medal at the August Ivan Hlinka tourney in Europe.

Jakob Chychrun, D Sarnia (OHL) 6-2, 215 (A)- Wonderful talent/skill with the head and maturity to be an instant impact defender and eventual franchise cornerstone. His first goal of the season exploded off his stick, shattering the the shaft, but the puck rocketed into the net top shelf. With his ability to skate, move the puck and play a smart game, he’ll be the first defender off the board in June and will challenge Auston Matthews for top billing.

Alex DeBrincat, RW Erie (OHL) 5-7, 165 (A)- Late ’97 Michigander lit it up to the tune of 51 goals and 100+ points a year ago riding shotgun with Connor McDavid. He impressed by amping up the production when McDavid was lost for a month with a hand injury, so there is reason to believe the small but fast and highly dangerous scoring wing can do it again.

Timmy Gettinger, LW Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) 6-5, 206 (B)- Massive winger isn’t fancy but he just goes to the net and unleashes a cannon shot that can beat goalies cleanly or uses his hand-eye coordination to deflect pucks into the net. Gettinger was one of the few bright spots on Team USA’s Ivan Hlinka entry this past summer. He’s a bit raw at this stage, but you can’t argue with the physical attributes.

Olli Juolevi, D London (OHL) 6-3, 180 (A)- High-end Finnish talent from the back end left home for North America and is an impressive package of skating, passing, shot and offensive instincts. He alternately impressed and provided scouts with plenty of areas to address in the first weekend of OHL games, but there is no arguing that he has unlimited potential. He’ll have to work on the little things like his reads, pinches and making the right decisions under pressure, but he’s going to rack up some points for the powerhouse Knights this season.

Luke Kunin, C University of Wisconsin (Big Ten) 5-11, 193 (A)- Missouri native who grew up skating with Tkachuk showed off the impressive chemistry the two have together when he blasted a top shelf shot past Evan Sarthou just seconds into the All-American Prospects Game last week. Has the skating and shot of a prolific scorer and the Badgers will welcome him with open arms after a tough season in 2015.

Charles McAvoy, D Boston University (HEA) 6-0, 208 (A)- Heady defender can do it all- he pushes the pace with his skating and runs the PP like a seasoned veteran. The Long Island native might not possess ideal size, but his brain and skill level will allow him to make a rapid transition with the Terriers as a freshman.

Jesse Puljujarvi, RW Karpat (Finland) 6-4, 205 (A)- Finnish power forward will be a coveted draft commodity for his size, smarts and polish. A guy as big as he is- essentially a linebacker on skates- should not be as quick and nimble while making it look so effortless. He, Matthews and Chychrun in my view are at the head of the 2016 class.

Matthew Tkachuk, LW London (OHL) 6-1, 200 (A)- I must admit, my man-crush on Keith’s oldest son might be a tad disturbing, but this is a kid who can just flat-out get things done. You hate to compare him to his old man, but it’s inevitable, and while he might not have Keith’s pure size and power (yet) he’s every bit as smart, instinctive and driven. Beyond the uncanny physical resemblance to his dad, Tkachuk is a different player, but every bit as coveted in the modern NHL for his ability to provide offense and be effective in the faceoff circle (even though he’s a winger). Tkachuk was a force in the AAPG and racked up 6 points in his first two OHL games as an encore. The scary thing is- had his linemates been a little more on the ball, he might have scored 10+ last weekend. He’s active and engaged around the net and is only going to get better now that Mitch Marner and Christian Dvorak are back with the Knights. Just in time for Halloween- the OHL had best be ready for a horror show.

Matt Tkachuk

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hlinka horror show- USA smoked by Finland in U18 action

So, I got back from the mini-vacation in time to watch (online) the Team USA Under-18 selects squad get smoked by Finland today in their first game of the annual Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. The final score was 5-1, but it could have been far worse.

This game was over after 20 minutes, as the Finns took advantage of sloppy, undisciplined play by the Americans and a poor performance in net from Niagara Ice Dogs goalie Stephen Dhillon. Dhillon, a dual citizen from Fort Erie, Ontario (his hometown is listed as Buffalo, N.Y.) has excellent size and athletic ability, but it wasn’t his day. Granted, he didn’t get much help from a team that took a series of undisciplined penalties (William Knierim’s slashing call to give Finland a 4-0 lead in the first period was the worst of them), but after being beaten on a deflection to open the scoring, he was fighting the puck and just couldn’t get his game on track. He was on the bench to start the second period, giving way to Dayton Rasmussen. All in all- a forgettable 20 minutes for Dhillon.

This is a talented Team USA squad, so we should have seen a much better performance from them than we did. Riley Tufte is a gi-normous forward at 6-foot-5 with some skill and is currently projected inside Red Line Report’s top-30 entering the season. He couldn’t get much going. Saw flashes of speed and offense from small but plucky New Yorker Christopher Berger. I liked what I saw at times from Massachusetts fave John Leonard, but there wasn’t a whole lot of positives to draw from. Patrick Harper, the other New Englander- a Boston University recruit and Avon Old Farms prep product- had a quiet gam as well.  He’s under 5-10 and speedy, but  the Finns did a nice job of slowing the USA offense through the neutral zone, and Harper never really got untracked.

USA’s lone goal happened when OHL (Sault Ste Marie) forward by way of Ohio forward Timmy Gettinger went to the net and perfectly redirected Ben Lown’s cross-ice feed past netminder Severi Isokangas (who made all the stops he had to, including a nice break in by Leonard during the 1st that could have gotten the Americans back in it).

Give full credit to the Finns- all they did was put the puck on net early and good things happened. The Robin Salo (late ’98- eligible for 2017 NHL draft) point blast to make it 3-0 was an absolute bomb that scorched in under the crossbar and sent the water bottle flying. They capitalized on the extra time and space the USA penalties gave them, and nobody could seem to get things going. Otto Makinen earned player of the game honors and showed off a fine release, while defenseman Markus Niemelainen played with poise- he’s a fluid skater who kept things simple.

Team USA takes on Russia tomorrow. The Hlinka tourney is pretty much an annual showcase of Canada’s  major junior power, as they take the best draft eligibles (or younger) from around the CHL- they basically ice the team they wish they could send to the April Under-18 championship, when many of their top talents are committed to the playoffs in their respective CHL leagues. If you want to know who the bulk of the first-round picks coming out of the OHL, QMJHL or WHL are- just pay attention to this tournament and you’ll get a nice preview of what is in store for the 2016 NHL draft before the 2015-16 major junior season kicks off.

The Americans, who send their best players from the U18 squad of the NTDP to the spring championship tourney, have won every U18 gold medal save one since 2009 (Canada prevented USA’s drive for five in a row in 2013), but in the Ivan Hlinka, the U.S. sends a select team chosen from the annual Select 17 USA Festival. They’ve won the silver medal a few times over the past few years going back to 2011, but no one can ever get past that Canadian juggernaut.

I don’t think 2015 will be any different.