Final buzzer: B’s moribund at even strength in Columbus Day matinee- drop third straight

The good news in Boston on Columbus Day 2015: the Bruins scored 3 power play goals.

The bad news: The Tampa Bay Lightning scored 6 goals (2 with the man advantage) and dominated the B’s at even strength to drop the home team to 0-3 for the 2015-16 season, with all three losses coming at the TD Garden.

The B’s squandered a 2-0 lead in the first period in a 1:09 span late in the opening frame when the fourth line collapsed too deep in their own end and got caught puck watching (Torey Krug was also guilty of this) while former St. Sebastian’s and Boston College star Brian Boyle drifted to the front of the net, took a pass from the left boards and buried a high shot for his first ever goal against the Bruins. Boston then saw Patrice Bergeron take a goaltender interference penalty (the B’s would get whistled for three such infractions on Ben Bishop today and what do you know? The 6-5 goalie went down like he’d been shot with a machine-gun every time a guy in a black sweater made contact with him.) and Tampa evened up the game when Ondrej Palat  heeled a pass that deflected through Tuukka Rask’s five-hole. Just like that, all of the hard work and two goals worth of offense compliments of David Krejci and Loui Eriksson evaporated.

Boyle took full advantage of a David Pastrnak miscue while Boston was on the power play in the second frame, intercepting an ill-advised (this is the second time in as many games I have used those words to describe a Pastrnak decision) pass to the middle of the ice out by the Tampa blue line. Boyle took off then gave Pastrnak a stiff-arm to knock him back, going in alone on Rask, sliding the puck again through the five-hole to make it 3-2.

Eriksson and the Bruins battled back to tie it at 3-3 with his second power play goal of the game, redirecting a Krejci shot (he finished with a goal and two assists, Krug had three points- all assists- as well) into the net and giving the building life.

It was short-lived, however- as Bergeron took another penalty (hooking) and then while Boston was on the PK, the Bolts’ Tyler Johnson got away with an interference play of his own to prevent Chris Kelly from clearing the puck. As a result Tampa held the zone, allowing Steven Stamkos to get open and bury a shot for the 4-3 lead and his 500th career NHL point (500s are wild in Boston- Tomas Plekanec reached the same milestone on Saturday).

Boston needed a strong final 20 minutes to come back, especially improving their 5-on-5 play, but didn’t get it. Rask gave up a soft goal to Jonathan Drouin on an off-speed shot that a sliding Boston D got a piece of, and then Valtteri Filppula closed out the scoring with a shot he directed in off his skate. After review, the goal was upheld and the Lighting left town with 6 goals, the second club in three tries this season to do it.

We knew that this Bruins team wasn’t going to be all that good, but they’ve not gotten much puck luck thus far, and more calls have gone against them than in favor. You don’t want to make excuses, though- the defense, which did benefit from having captain Zdeno Chara back, is too young and unproven at this stage, and the Boston offense does not have the horses to provide consistent scoring. In net, Rask has been mediocre thus far, which, in a nutshell, accounts for 16 goals allowed and the 0-3 start, the equaling the 1999-00 Boston Bruins, a non-playoff club.

Instead of doing 3 up/3 down, I’m just going to switch to up/down, because I don’t want to force things that are not there. More guys probably deserved down grades than up today, but to be quite honest- Tampa Bay is one of the top teams in the league and the Bruins did some good things today, especially in the first 40 minutes. I particularly liked some of the pressure they put on Tampa in their own end, disrupting their breakouts and not letting the Lightning generate much speed in the neutral zone. Unfortunately, the wheels came off in the final period and Boston couldn’t sustain that.

Torey Krug has been consistent in the early going on a defensive unit that has had some tough nights. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Torey Krug has been consistent in the early going on a defensive unit that has had some tough nights. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Up

Loui Eriksson- He pounced on a Krug pass just outside the right post for his 1st goal of the season (he had one wiped out against Saturday night, I would add), then got his stick on a Krejci shot in the second period to tie the game at three goals apiece. He’s a smart player who works hard around the net and deserves more credit than he gets from rank and file Boston fans. Unfortunately, as a 30-year-old impending free agent, he’s far more likely to be traded at some point this season where he can help a playoff-bound club than to finish out his time as a Bruin.

David Krejci- He started the scoring with his second goal in three games, then assisted on both of Ericsson’s tallies. He won face-offs and provided an offensive spark. His day was not without mistakes- he coughed the puck up a few times, got hit with one of the Bishop interference calls (Bishop sold it pretty well) and overskated the play that resulted in Tampa’s final goal. On another tough day for a loss, it’s hard to find positives.

Torey Krug- With three assists and nearly 24 minutes, Krug has been Boston’s most consistent defenseman in the first trio of contests. Like Krejci, however, Krug’s day was not without its warts. He was out of position and did not pick up Boyle on his first goal to cut Boston’s lead to 2-1, focusing on the puck instead of his surroundings. But, when it comes to handling the puck and starting the breakouts from his own end, nobody is doing it better than the third-year player.

Down

Tuukka Rask- Yes, his team isn’t very good. Yes, some of the goals today were not his fault. But, there are times when a team simply needs their goaltender to make the basic stops to keep them on top or get them back in it, Rask was AWOL today. With the money he’s making, the Bruins deserved a much better performance than they got from the moody and often times mercurial personality. It will be interesting to see if Rask digs in and dedicates himself to being better or his attitude worsens. The Bruins cannot afford any petulance from the one guy they’ll depend on the most to steal them some games this season.

I’ll be honest- I am not a fan of the people out there who never seem to think the goaltender should be accountable for anything. It’s always a defensive breakdown or a forward who didn’t get back or some other excuse. I think after a day like today- if that’s what you’re bringing to the table in a debate about Rask’s performance, then you probably need to take a step back and reevaluate your knowledge of the game of hockey. At some point- there’s a certain level of performance from the guy between the pipes that everyone should expect and demand, regardless of agendas. Rask fell short today. But, he’ll get plenty of other opportunities to shine this season, and when he does- I’ll be the first in line to give him credit, because that’s how this should work. Today, however, he let his team down when they needed him to be just above average.

Joonas Kemppainen- You can tell the guy is mature and a smart hockey player, but he seems to be gripping the stick pretty tight and playing not to lose. Like everyone on that bottom unit and defense that got burned on Boyle’s first goal, he was nowhere near in position to defend, and as the center, Boyle was his man. He’s new to North America and still getting acclimated, but the B’s need him to play better going forward after a shaky first game against Winnipeg.

David Pastrnak- His play in the second period was a costly one and he did not have a great game overall. He is easily one of the most talented players on the ice on either team in the three losses, but the B’s are going to have to live with the mistakes he will make out of a desire to try and make too much happen. Claude Julien’s challenge will be to take the good with the bad and protect the kid’s confidence by not crushing him when the mistakes occur. The Bruins are better off with Pastrnak trying too hard to make something happen than doing too little for fear of getting stapled to the bench.

Patrice Bergeron- He had an assist and was strong in the face-off dot as he normally is, but with the Bruins up 2-1 after Boyle’s strike he went into the crease and made contact with Bishop, opening the door for Tampa to tie it. He was far from the only culprit today, but a second penalty he took proved to be the winning goal against.

Jimmy Hayes- Three games and not a whole heck of a lot to talk about from the Dorchester native. You can see that he wants to be engaged out there, but his lack of speed hurts him on a line with someone as fast as Ryan Spooner is. The coaches perhaps need to look a little closer at what Hayes does well and figure out how to get him more involved. Without a strong puck possession game, he’s going to have his hands full in terms of keeping up with the play.

Next game- the Colorado Avalanche. Not exactly world-beaters, but with the B’s reeling and on the road in Denver, it’s going to be a tough matchup for them. The Bruins are dead last at 0-3 and have given up the most goals in the process.

It’s probably going to get a good deal worse before it gets better, folks. There are some things to be positive about, but the Bruins on the whole simply do not have the talent to stay with the big dogs in this league, and we’ve seen it with them going 0-3 agains three playoff teams from last spring. It’s a tough pill to swallow given where the B’s were just back in 2013, but they are where they are right now, and it looks like the team will need to sell off more veteran parts in order to commit to a true rebuild.

Trying not to be overly pessimistic here, but this club just does not seem to have it, and it’s hard to envision them suddenly turning things around based on what we’ve seen in the early going. Growing pains time, as the kids like Pastrnak and Colin Miller are going to have their ups and downs but ultimately will be some of the faces this team looks to in the future. That’s of little comfort in early October, but just calling it as I see it.

Final buzzer: Jets strafe B’s, 6-2

A night that began with promise for the Boston Bruins in their home opener in the 2015-16 season turned into a nightmare after the young, but talented Winnipeg Jets erased a 0-1 deficit with a three-goal second period.

The B’s defense, sans captain Zdeno Chara, struggled for much of the game, with the pairing of Matt Irwin and Zach Trotman standing out in particular (and not in a good way- more on them later).

Tuukka Rask gave up five (Alexander Burmistrov tallied an empty-netter with about 3:30 left after Claude Julien tried to get some offense going), but he was hung out to dry for much of the night.

The Czech Mates/Davids- Krejci and Pastrnak- provided the Boston goals, with Krejci’s coming compliments of a nice Pastrnak play behind the net, even though the second-year winger did not get an assist because Winnipeg’s Ben Chiarot had possession and lost the puck to Krejci for the score.

Overall, however- after a strong first period played with good pace and urgency, the Bruins’ inexperience cost them on multiple occasions as defenders got burned after bad turnovers, forwards were guilty of making poor decisions and despite some nice rushes, the home team couldn’t finish off the chances that the Jets cashed in on when the B’s opened the door for them.

Things will probably get worse before they get better, but this one served as a stark reminder of the challenges this Boston club will face this year. The Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning are next on the docket…oy.

3 Up:

  1. David Pastrnak- Boston’s future All-Star made the play behind the net in the first period that resulted in Boston’s opening goal of the season when he separated Chiarot from the puck and threw it out front. Chiarot grabbed it but didn’t sense Krejci’s backside pressure and the savvy veteran stole it and flipped a backhander into the net before Ondrej Pavelec could get to the far post. Early in the third frame, Pastrnak made it a one-goal game when he patiently held the puck as he improved the shooting angle before rifling it past Pavelec on the short side. It was a stoppable shot, but that’s what a goal scorer does- he beats goaltenders on shots that they should make the save on. This kid is really good already…and he’s only 19.
  2. Kevan Miller- He was engaged and active all night, playing his patented physical style and even getting involved in the offense, picking up a secondary assist on the Pastrnak tally. It probably isn’t saying a heck of a lot, but Miller was arguably the best Boston defenseman on the ice tonight.
  3. Tuukka Rask- When is a goalie with an 800-something save percentage an “up” player? When you look at how well Rask did in moments when he had no help from his teammates. Rask wasn’t perfect tonight, but he gave his team a chance to win, making several memorable stops including a brain cramp meltdown by Krejci when the B’s were on the power play to start the second period and a poor pass resulted in an Andrew Ladd breakaway. Some are going to disagree with my assessment, but I’d submit those are the folks who think that the guys between the pipes aren’t allowed to give up bad goals. Ever. Tonight, Rask could have been about perfect and the Jets still would have scored their goals.

3 Down:

  1. Matt Irwin-Zach Trotman- Yikes. Where to begin? The decisions weren’t good, the turnovers worse and the outcomes on those mistakes pushed the team over the edge. The trouble started with the game 1-1 and Irwin allowing Ladd to get in on him on the forecheck behind the Boston net. Irwin did not protect the puck, and Trotman moved away from the front of his net perhaps to create an outlet for Irwin when he was in trouble, but the resulting play left Blake Wheeler alone in the slot when Ladd separated Irwin from the puck and had an easy play out front. That score broke the tie and you could see the B’s visibly sag. When Drew Stafford put a rebound up and over a sprawling Rask to make it 3-1 late in the second period, Trotman and Irwin were running around again. The horror show continued into the third period when Irwin got caught too deep up the ice on a Chris Thorburn break the other way that Krejci finished off, making it 4-2 moments after Pastrnak had given his team and the TD Garden crowd  life. Trotman seemed to play more and more tentatively as the night went on, struggling with his gaps and letting Jets get around him and straight to the net. All in all- it was a night to forget for the duo and probably opened the door for Colin Miller, who was the odd man out tonight. I suspect we’ll see one of Irwin or Trotman sit out the next one when the coaches break down the film.
  2. David Krejci- David giveth and he taketh away. He started out great with the goal and was effective on the draws in the first 20 minutes, but he forced some plays in the final 40 that he’ll have to tighten up going forward. He tried hard to back check on Thorburn but ended up chipping the puck past Rask to make it 4-2 and effectively put the game out of reach even before Nic Petan– the little Portland Rainmaker- got a puck off the skate that hit Torey Krug before going in to make it 5-2, Jets and send the fans to the exits.
  3. Adam McQuaid- He’s a great dressing room guy and character leader, but the Bruins must get better play from him. He was another player guilty of some glaring mistakes and turnovers tonight and in fairness- he wasn’t alone. More than a few Boston forwards moved pucks carelessly and ultimately handed Winnipeg prime scoring chances- the hallmark of a young, inexperienced club. But- the B’s must have leaders by example and McQuaid’s turnovers hurt the collective effort.

Notes:

Matt Beleskey registered his first point as a Bruin, making the pass that sprang Pastrnak into the offensive zone for his goal. Beleskey was finishing his checks and playing with energy…but not sure how productive he’s going to be this season.

Villain of the night award goes to Alexander Burmistrov who took a first-period run at Patrice Bergeron that he finished off with a high elbow to Mr. Everything’s noggin. You may recall that he missed most of the 2007-08 season and parts of 2008-09 due to post-concussion syndrome that nearly cost the three-time Selke Trophy winner his career. He didn’t take kindly to Burmistrov’s dirty play and to his discredit, Burmistrov was penalized on the play, but just turned away when Bergeron went after him. It was gutless and cowardly for him to take the shot in the first place and then refuse to be accountable for it, but Burmistrov did not learn his lesson, later going back at another Bruin (Connolly?) later in the game but failing to make contact with his high elbow again. Burmistrov got the last laugh not only with the win but by putting the puck into the empty net to close out the scoring. I’m betting the B’s took his No. 6 down for future reference, but the bottom line is this: the NHL will continue to lose players to head injuries if the Burmistrovs of the world are allowed to operate like that. Here’s hoping the Jets will do some self-policing, but I doubt it.

Brad Marchand looks like he’ll lead the team in goals again this year. He was all over the place and created several memorable scoring chances, but couldn’t find the back of the net. Sometimes, less is more and you wonder if he just kept it simple he might have more luck, but Marchand won’t be held off the scoring ledger for long.

Around the NHL:

Jack Eichel scored his 1st NHL goal against Craig Anderson and the Ottawa Senators. It was a short side snipe on the power play and an absolute beauty. Once upon a time in October, 1987 I saw a Buffalo Sabre named Pierre Turgeon score in his first NHL game as well. Here’s to Eichel-mania in Buffalo- and the pride of North Chelmsford, Mass. justifying that second overall pick the Sabres made on him. Bruins fans had better prepare for him lighting the lamp against the home team for years (but for the record- he grew up rooting for the Montreal Canadiens).

More cuts on Sunday as 4-0 preseason Bruins roster takes shape

Patrice Bergeron is Boston's "Mr Everything" and the team will need him to be that and more at age 30. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Patrice Bergeron is Boston’s “Mr Everything” and the team will need him to be that and more at age 30. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

The Boston Bruins and GM Don Sweeney announced today that eight players under NHL contract have been sent down to Providence of the AHL. Defenseman Chris Breen and forward Brandon DeFazio were put on waivers yesterday and designated for assignment- they both cleared today and will participate in the Baby B’s camp. Defenseman Ben Youds, on an AHL deal, was released from Boston camp (PTO) and sent to Providence. You can read the transaction announcement here.

Additionally, the B’s returned their remaining junior players to their respective teams, with Jakub Zboril (Saint John- QMJHL), Jake DeBrusk (Swift Current- WHL) and Brandon Carlo (Tri-City- WHL) all going back to the CHL. The B’s released Zach Senyshyn (Sault Ste. Marie- OHL) and Jeremy Lauzon (Rouyn-Noranda- QMJHL) prior to the weekend’s slate of games.

In the spirit of and with a nod to the always outstanding Mike Reiss and his Patriots blog at ESPN Boston throughout the NFL training camp leading up to the final cuts day before the start of the 2015 NFL season, here’s the remaining players- locks and bubble guys along with a little analysis on what it all means going forward.

Centers

Locks: Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Ryan Spooner, Chris Kelly, Max Talbot (5)

On the bubble: Joonas Kemppainen

AHL-bound: Alex Khokhlachev, Austin Czarnik, Zack Phillips

Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci…Krejci and Bergeron…Boston’s 1-1A center punch is well entrenched, and I won’t fool around with the argument I see some people engage in over who is the B’s 1 and 2…it’s a pretty meaningless debate, because without one or the other, the team’s in deep trouble. Ryan Spooner hasn’t had a great deal of time to establish himself with new linemates, but he’s been an opportunistic scorer with the man advantage and is clearly the No. 3 man in the center pecking order. Even if the B’s might opt not to use Chris Kelly and/or Max Talbot at center, expect the team to retain both as veteran options for the bottom line with the ability to play the wings- they’ve done it before. Joonas Kemppainen has been a solid if unspectacular presence in the exhibition games he’s suited up for, and he’s effective on the draws, plays a mature two-way game, and has the size and strength to start the year as the team’s fourth-line center if that’s the plan. Austin Czarnik has been a revelation in his first pro camp after signing with the B’s last spring, using his speed, smarts and quick hands to make an impact in all three zones, but he’s better off playing on Providence’s first or second line and on both PK and PP units. If injuries take a toll on the B’s depth, don’t be surprised to see him get a chance at some point this season. If not, he’ll make it tough to cut him next year with a full season under his belt. Alex Khokhlachev, for all his talent, just hasn’t been able to find the production in his game. He’s without a doubt more talented than Kelly, Talbot or Kemppainen, but building an NHL roster isn’t just about plugging in the most skilled guys on the bottom line and expecting them to thrive. He’s improved his overall game, but if Koko had found a way to actually…you know…score some goals, then you might have more of an argument than the simple “SKILL!” that I have people hit me with onTwitter quite a bit. The B’s need to figure out how to best use him or trade him, but just because he said he doesn’t want to play in Providence forever does not mean he’s ready for primetime now. He’ll have  a few more chances before the final cuts come in, so if ever there was a time for him to impress the brass with a breakout individual performance, it’s now. Zack Phillips was waived yesterday (and cleared) but is still with the team, where he is rehabbing an injury.  Even if he had played in any of the preseason games, it’s hard to see Phillips being in the mix for a center job given how deep the team is at that position right now.

Right Wings

Locks: David Pastrnak, Loui Eriksson, Brett Connolly

On the bubble: Anton Blidh, Tyler Randell

AHL-bound: Brian Ferlin, Seth Griffith

David Pastrnak is not only a sure thing, he’s the most exciting combination of pure speed/scoring talent *and* character since…well…quite a long time. He’s similar to Bergeron in terms of the kind of impact he could have on this franchise, but he’s a higher-end scoring winger and will eventually put together some impressive numbers. I don’t know if he’s quite ready to bust out with the All-Star production this year, but he’ll give it his all. Loui Eriksson plays the off-wing and will go about his business being the smart, stealthy scoring presence he was a year ago when he finished second on the team in goals. However, if the B’s are going south in the standings, don’t be surprised to see Sweeney try and move Eriksson to a contender- his current contract is up next summer and it’s doubtful he’ll be back. Brett Connolly has not had a great preseason thus far, but the team gave up a pair of second-round picks for him and has high hopes. Unlike impatient fans who expect instant near-perfection, the B’s will give Connolly a chance to see if the 2010 draft hype was real or not. Listed as a left wing but shifting over on the right  side thus far, Swedish pest Anton Blidh has impressed with his speed, energy and grit. He’s the kind of guy who could start the season right away on the bottom line, but as a young player on the first year of his ELC, he can be sent down to Providence without being placed on waivers, whereas other players can’t, so he might need to bide his time in the AHL as a third-liner who can grind it out. Tyler Randell has yet to even come close to making the NHL roster since the B’s drafted him late in 2009, but he’s in the mix because of his sheer toughness and ability to make the odd offensive play. Randell’s feet are an issue and he’ll have to be waived to get sent down, so the B’s might carry him as an extra forward to spot play when facing the more rugged teams (which admittedly are decreasing rapidly in number). Brian Ferlin scored a nice backhand goal off a turnover against Detroit and impressed in a small sample size call up a year ago, but like Blidh, he can go down without waivers, so the B’s would rather have him playing a lot than the limited time he’ll get on the bottom line. He’ll be among the first to be recalled if injuries hit. Seth Griffith’s sprained MCL suffered in a preseason game essentially means he’ll rehab the injury but likely go down to start the year and work his way into shape and consideration to be brought up when that time comes.

Left Wings

Locks: Brad Marchand, Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes, Zac Rinaldo

AHL-bound: Frank Vatrano

Brad Marchand led the team in scoring a year ago and he’s going nowhere- will keep riding shotgun with Bergeron to consistent effect over the past several seasons. Boston’s big-ticket free agent Matt Beleskey hasn’t set the world on fire in his first couple of preseason outings, but he’s done and said the right things. Working with Krejci and Pastrnak means that he’ll have plenty of chances to find the back of the net, but expectations need to be tempered- the B’s need him to stay healthy more than anything else right now. Local boy makes good in the case of Jimmy Hayes, who has used his enormous 6-foot-6 frame to good effect and done pretty well skating with Spooner. He’s going to grunt it out in the trenches, but he looks like an ideal fit in Boston’s top-9, playing over on the left side after being a right wing in Florida. Zac Rinaldo was acquired with a third-round pick, so even the most ardent critics will have to grudgingly admit that he’s here to stay for now at least, and we’ll see how much of a role he’ll have on the team going forward. If the B’s opt to use Kelly on the left wing of the fourth line, then Rinaldo will have to move around. Thus far, he’s drawn more penalties than he’s taken and played his patented physical style.  Frank Vatrano, along with liney Czarnik, has been a revelation, but he’s not ready to take on a full-time NHL role. He’s better off playing a lot of minutes in all situations and building his confidence by unleashing that killer shot down in the AHL for now, but watch for him to get some looks if he’s productive and keeps playing hard in all zones.

Defense

Locks: Zdeno Chara (inj.), Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, Zach Trotman, Colin Miller, Joe Morrow, Matt Irwin, Kevan Miller *Dennis Seidenberg (inj.)– 8-week timetable for return (mid-to-late November)

On the bubble: Linus Arnesson

AHL-bound: Tommy Cross, Chris Casto

The Bruins are hoping Zdeno Chara is ready to begin the season after taking a hit the other night in action against the NY Rangers and leaving the game in the first period. Torey Krug has stepped up in his absence, scoring the OT-winning goal against Detroit and playing with the confidence and heart of a much bigger man. Adam McQuaid is safely entrenched on the Boston roster, and Zach Trotman is also a solid bet for now as a known entity, even if he does not possess the uptempo game and sexy upside that Colin Miller and Joe Morrow bring. Both offense-minded blueliners have impressed in the preseason and the injury situation means they will both likely make the cut. Matt Irwin and Kevan Miller bring veteran ability and know-how to the mix, and if Claude Julien was serious about carrying eight defenders to begin the year (he said that even before Chara got banged up) then these are your guys. Linus Arnesson has played very well- his ice time against Detroit was notable early for how much of the first 20 minutes was played on special teams and he did well in all situations. However, with more experienced options in play, the expected move is for him to go down to the AHL where he can develop and thrive in a top role. Experienced farmhands Tommy Cross and Chris Casto will help Arnesson form a nucleus of a relatively young but game defense corps in Providence.

Goaltender

Lock: Tuukka Rask

On the bubble: Jeremy Smith, Jonas Gustavsson

And then there were three…with both of Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre being optioned to Providence today, this leaves it between Jonas Gustavsson and Jeremy Smith to be Tuukka Rask’s backup. Gustavsson just returned to the team after dealing with a personal matter, so he hasn’t had much playing time outside of an 18-shot, 18-save half of work in Boston’s first preseason contest against the New Jersey Devils. Smith has been a little up and down, struggling to find his game against the Rangers, but digging in and making some key stops at crunch time to preserve a 4-3 shootout win after letting in some softies to fall behind 3-1. In Gustavsson (who is on a PTO and would still need to be signed if the B’s like what they see), the team gets an NHL-experienced backup who has proven he has the tools to be a capable starter should something happen to Rask (knock on wood, please). On the downside, ‘the Monster’ has had injury issues, so even if the B’s go with him this year, there is a chance he’ll end up on IR at some point, meaning the team has to go deeper into the bullpen. As for Smith, he’s a one-time second-round pick from 2007, so at one point, he was seen as an impressive pro prospect, but he has zero NHL experience, so the B’s are going right back where they were a year ago when they went with the unproven Niklas Svedberg, who could not win Julien’s confidence to spell Rask more than once in a blue moon. It would be one thing if Smith had completely shut everyone down thus far in exhibition play, but he hasn’t done that. He also hasn’t been as bad as some folks have shared with me online, either. At the same time, Gustavsson’s effort was in a very small sample size…but then again- you know he can stop pucks at the NHL level, at least. My guess: Gustavsson stays, Smith goes down to the AHL, and at that point, the B’s will probably need to either option McIntyre to the ECHL or figure out another AHL team for Smith- three goalies in Providence is not the kind of situation Boston wants.

Scouting Dispatches: Twitter mailbag #4

Frank Vatrano, UMass Minutemen (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Frank Vatrano, UMass Minutemen (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Boston Bruins training camp is in full swing after the rookies had their day in Buffalo over the weekend, going 1-0-1 in 2 exhibition games against the Devils and Sabres. Frank Vatrano certainly turned heads with his performance, but now, all eyes are on the B’s veterans who are back and looking to build on last year’s disappointing non-playoff finish.

With that in mind, let’s get to your questions. As always- thanks for sending them along. I try to answer one per person, so if I didn’t get one because you sent multiple entries, try again next time.

If you had to pick one dark horse that’d surprise all and force his way onto roster (now or later in year), who would it be?– Jason Silva @JasonSilva67

Honestly, I’m not sure there are many “dark horses” who are in line for a big opportunity this year unless the bottom falls out of things injury-wise.

We’re getting a closer look at the three first-round picks from 2015 and they all look like they need to go back to junior.

Based purely on the rookie camp, my dark horse is Frank Vatrano– the former UMass standout scored three goals in two games including the OT-winner against the New Jersey rookies when he helped to force a turnover deep in the Devils’ end, then cut right to the net where linemate Austin Czarnik found him with a shot he tipped home. If the B’s suffered an unusual rash of injuries or just wanted a shakeup up front for game or two, Vantrano would be an interesting player up front because of his hands and energy. I cannot say enough how impressive he’s been over the last couple of seasons after playing just one NCAA game in 2013-14.

Realistically speaking, though- we’re probably not going to get a David Pastrnak-like breakthrough this year. Free agent Joonas Kemppainen was signed last spring on the heels of his Finnish league championship run. He’ll turn 28 this year and so I wouldn’t really call him a surprise- the B’s brought him on board I believe with every intention of getting him some time with the big club as a natural center who plays a strong three-zone game. If he makes the roster out of camp, it will be more by design than overachieving on his part.

David Pastrnak, Emil Johansson and Zane McIntyre take a break during 2014 Bruins development camp (photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

David Pastrnak, Emil Johansson and Zane McIntyre take a break during 2014 Bruins development camp (photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Where do Pasta, Hayes and Connolly play?- Matt Kalin @katomck1981

David Pastrnak is firmly entrenched on David Krejci’s right side for now, and I think the Bruins will try to capitalize on the potential those two have together, not just as fellow Czech Republic natives but because they both bring elite creativity and offensive vision to the mix and Pastrnak’s speed and tenacity is a perfect match for what Krejci brings when on top of his game. Matt Beleskey on that left side filling the spot vacated by Milan Lucic is a good call- he’s not as big as Lucic, but will bring the physicality to help address the loss of time and space ML17 used to bring.

I’ve seen that Jimmy Hayes (normally a RW) is over on the left side flanking Ryan Spooner and Brett Connolly in early B’s camp sessions, and I think that is an intriguing trio for sure. I thought that perhaps the B’s would move Loui Eriksson over to the left side on third line to allow one of Connolly and Hayes to move up to the second line behind Pastrnak (if you slot the Krejci line at the top, that is). However, it looks like Claude Julien and Co. want to keep Eriksson with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and Eriksson (a left shot) playing on his off-wing.

What’s interesting to me about a Hayes-Spooner-Connolly third line is that this has the potential to be a model example of the new trend towards NHL clubs icing more of a top-9 attack, with three balanced and skilled scoring lines to aggressively attack opposing defenses as opposed to the older top-six/bottom-six design. Connolly was drafted 5 years ago to be a scoring wing, while Hayes is coming off a career-best 19 goals for Florida. Spooner was taken in the same draft as Connolly, and believe me- it wasn’t to be a grinder. If the B’s can figure out how to get enough ice for all three forward units, that third line could give other teams fits, allowing a clamp-down line of Chris Kelly and Max Talbot (and Joonas Kemppainen?) to grind it out and spell the top-9 forwards.

Jared Knight – any NHL upside at all at this point ? Thanks- @pprohaska

If Knight makes the NHL, it will be as a bottom-six, grinding forward in all likelihood.

It’s been a tough road for him over the past three seasons, so the team did him a big favor by getting him out of there and providing a change of scenery. I thought he played with more confidence in the AHL when he went out West, and so I would not rule him out of eventually earning an NHL job. The issue with him is- will he ever justify his draft position as the 32nd overall selection? That might be a bridge too far, as he’s a rugged, hard-working winger but does not appear to have the natural scoring ability to be an NHL-caliber top two line guy.

The deal appeared to be one of those “my bust for your bust” things- where neither Knight nor Zack Phillips, who was quite the hot shot going into the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, sneaking into the late first round, got off on the right foot and things seemed to compound for them. Phillips is more skilled than Knight is, but his lack of pure foot speed works against him. I expect Phillips to be a key cog in Providence’s machine this year, and who knows? If he’s productive enough, he might get a brief look at some point. Realistically, though, like Knight- Phillips is an unenviable position right now as a high draft pick who still needs to prove he can play at the AHL level before we even start talking about the NHL.

I’ve known Knight since the B’s drafted him and he’s a quality person with a great attitude. If anyone can reinvent himself to be that gritty lower-line forward who skates up and down the wing and chips in some modest offense while playing a strong 200-foot game, it is him. I wish him the best.

What do you think about (Joonas) Kemppainen and his potential fit on the team?– davrion @davrion

I think the signing made sense from a pragmatic standpoint- the B’s have an opening for a bottom-line center and the 27-year-old Finn has spent nearly a decade in the pro hockey circuit there, meaning that instead of taking an NHL-inexperienced skill player who is probably ill-suited to play the fourth-line center role as Alexander Khokhlachev is, they’re hedging their bets with an older, more mature player who is more refined and has the intelligence, size and pro hockey experience to come right in and not look too out of place.

I don’t know how effective Kemppainen will be…the B’s have had mixed results when they have brought over older European forwards in the past, but I don’t buy the Carl Soderberg comparisons I’ve seen cropping up on the internet, either. Soderberg was talented, and a lot more was expected of him offensively, but he ultimately played too passive a game and his personality was not a great fit in the room. Kemppainen is quiet and perhaps shy, but I’m told by people who know him that he’ll earn respect because he’s willing to do whatever is asked of him. Plus, having Tuukka Rask around will help him adjust to North America and the B’s dressing room culture.

I like the move- it’s a no-risk attempt to infuse a winner who possesses the size and two-way game (and perhaps some underrated offensive ability) on the checking unit without taking a square peg and forcing it into a round hole. This is not an indictment of Koko, but if people are honest with themselves, they know that expecting him to thrive on the fourth line when he’s a player who is at his best in scoring role (just don’t ask me who he’s going to beat out to provide that in Boston as of today) is a tall order. You don’t call an electrician if your toilet needs fixing…the same principle applies here, so Kemppainen seems like a much better fit at least to start the year. Whether he has the ability to keep the job, however…we’ll find out soon enough.

Could you see Ryan Spooner having a 2008-09 Krejci-esque year (70 points) in his third line role w/ good line mates & PP time?– ETD51 @ETD51

I try not to set expectations on players today based on what others did in the past.

Spooner is to be lauded for seizing the opportunity presented him at the end of last year to establish himself as one of the few bright spots on the 2014-15 Boston Bruins.

Having said that, even though the two players’ (David Krejci and Spooner) numbers are similar at the same age and experience level, unless something happens to move Spooner up to the top two lines for a big chunk of the 2015-16 season, that 70 points is going to happen for him on the third line.

He’s a talented player and if he gets 50 points on that third unit, it will be a big win. Scoring is so down around the league- Jamie Benn won the NHL’s points title last year with 87- so thinking that a third-line player on any team, let alone one that struggled mightily to generate consistent offense a year ago is going to hit 70 points in this current environment (unless there is a major swing of the pendulum that is) isn’t very realistic.

Malcolm Subban (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Malcolm Subban (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Do you see Subban being traded or will he be the backup goalie all year?- Chris @FribbleLover

How about…neither?

I think the B’s would certainly entertain any offers they get for Malcolm Subban, but they aren’t just going to deal him for the sake of doing so.

I’m also not sure Subban wins the backup job in Boston this year after as yet not having established himself as an AHL starter.  I’m not a believer in young (and he’s not even 22 yet) goalies sitting and watching games as a backup during a critical development period in their careers, and I just don’t think the Bruins are going to put Subban in that situation when he could be starting and honing his technique/building confidence at the lower levels.

As for trading Subban, I’ve said this before- the value they would receive for him right now is not likely to justify the effort. Hold onto him and see how he performs in this important third season since he turned pro. If a team comes along and wants to give the B’s a good return for him, they’d be silly not to consider it, but while I’m sure more than a few teams would be happy to take him off of Boston’s hands for a song, that’s what I believe they want to give up. That doesn’t help Boston. Remember- the B’s once hoodwinked Toronto in getting Tuukka Rask even-Steven for Andrew Raycroft. How did that work out for the team that gave up an at-the-time unproven goalie talent for an established commodity?

Patience, young Grasshopper. Resist the urge to play fantasy hockey GM questing for shiny new toy returns and leave Subban where he is for now. The B’s used a top-30 pick on him for a reason.

I would like to know the upside/possibilities of Brandon Carlo?- Anthony Amico @anthonyamico

Carlo looks like the prototypical modern NHL defender: big at 6-foot-5, mobile, physical with a long reach and an ability to make a strong first pass.

I’m not sure that I buy into the over-the-moon excitement I’ve seen about him in some circles on the Internet, however.

Don’t misread that remark into believing I’m not high on the kid, but some fans have let the hype machine get out of control already, with some penciling him into the NHL lineup and I think we have to slow the roll on him. Given the other veteran and other pro defenders vying for spots, it would take a jaw-dropping camp and exhibition performance from the 18-year-old Colorado native to leapfrog some of the guys ahead of him on the depth chart. I fully expect he’ll be back in the WHL this year, but as a late ’96 birthdate, he’ll be eligible to play in Providence for the 2016-17 hockey season, at least.

As for Carlo’s upside, he has a big shot from the point, but I wonder about the vision and offensive creativity that is needed to emerge as a true-blue, top two-way threat at the NHL level. Instead, I see Carlo as more of a solid middle pair defenseman who can shut down opposition offenses because he moves well and uses his stick and physical strength to keep forwards to the outside. He’s also on the snarly side and will be his team’s captain this year at Tri-City, so there is a lot to like about the kid.

Just temper the expectations and don’t be in such a rush to see him in Boston- all in due time.

Brandon Carlo- "shiny new toy?" (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Brandon Carlo- “shiny new toy?” (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Keys to the kingdom: Tuukka Rask

When it comes to the hopes for an entire hockey season, Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask has the keys to the kingdom. As he goes, so goes any optimism that the team that was a Stanley Cup contender just two seasons ago can be more than a middle of the pack team in 2015-16.

Tuukka Rask: the calm before the storm (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Tuukka Rask: the calm before the storm (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Rask’s journey from former first-round selection of the Toronto Maple Leafs a decade ago to Boston farmhand and Tim Thomas’ backup to NHL elite performer and workhorse has been a model of consistency and patience. Even though he was the 21st overall selection in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, he wasn’t rushed to the big league before he was ready, but instead given an opportunity to compete in his native Finland’s top pro league and play most of the high profile international tournaments before he played a single professional game in North America.

When the Bruins acquired him for one-time Calder Trophy winner Andrew Raycroft in 2006, Rask had already forged a sterling reputation as one of the most promising young goalies in the world. Little did anyone know that aside from Thomas’ injury-riddled 2009-10 hockey season which opened the door for Rask to emerge as an NHL regular and playoff starter, it would be another six years before Rask finally stepped into the limelight as the No. 1 for Boston, a distinction he put an exclamation point on when he won the 2014 Vezina Trophy.

Then (2005 draft and beyond): Rask entered the 2004-05 season as a favorite to be a top-30 pick. Just the year before, Rask had shined for Team Finland at the Viking Cup in Alberta, impressing scouts with his athletic ability and penchant for performing under a barrage of shots.

He made the 2005 Finnish World Jr. squad which competed in Grand Forks, N.D. (when Patrice Bergeron, Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel all made significant splashes) at age 17, but struggled on the big stage in that tournament. Still, his stock was high entering the draft that summer (the actual event was not held in usual fashion due to the lockout) and Toronto pounced on him with the 21st pick- right in front of Boston, who reportedly were set to make Rask their selection despite having drafted fellow Finn Hannu Toivonen just three years earlier.

They ranked him 14th overall and the third-best goaltender available behind Carey Price and bust J.P. Levasseur, but here is some of what Red Line Report had to say about Rask in 2005: Bit of an engima all year- very inconsistent. The old Rask we know and love plays with confidence and swagger. Squares up to shooters very well. Goes down into butterfly early but still manages to cover top corners due to great size and flexibility. Exceptionally athletic and acrobatic. Covers a lot of net and moves smoothly side-to-side…but there were times throughout the season when he came unraveled and couldn’t make big saves to keep his team in games.

This scouting report, written more than 10 years ago, could be published tomorrow and it would describe Rask in 2015 to a tee. But part of what makes Rask special is that he is so athletic and able to make stops that lesser goalies can only dream of doing. He didn’t just walk in and sit around while everything fell into place- it took time, work and patience both on Rask’s part and that of the Bruins to gradually develop him, with two full AHL years after the team signed Rask in 2007 (with brief NHL callups sandwiched in there) before he graduated to being Boston’s full-time backup in 2009-10.

When Thomas struggled with a debilitating hip injury that few knew the extent of until after he made his triumphant return to the world stage in 2010-11, Rask filled the void by taking away the top job and getting the nod for Boston’s round 1 playoff series against the higher-seeded Buffalo Sabres. He was superb in dispatching the Sabres in six games, and followed that up by keying Boston to a 3-0 series lead over the Philadelphia Flyers in round 2. Alas, the wheels completely fell off and Boston suffered a historic (since helped by San Jose’s similar collapse to the Los Angeles Kings in 2014) come-from-behind defeat in seven games, with Rask and an injury-decimated B’s team dropping four consecutive games including a blown 3-0 lead in Game 7 at home.

Rask’s stumbles opened the door for Thomas to return with a vengeance after surgery fixed his hip and the veteran went on to have a historic year for Boston, winning a second Vezina Trophy since 2009 and far more importantly, winning the 2011 Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Along the way, Thomas exorcised the demons Rask could not keep at bay with a four-game sweep of the Flyers to avenge the previous spring’s embarrassment.

That meant another season- 2011-12- as backup (and a late-season injury curtailed Rask’s playing time that year even more)- but set the stage for an ascendance when Thomas decided he no longer wished to play for the Bruins and announced he would sit out the 2012-13 season.

Pro goalie consultant and USA Hockey regional scout Justin Goldman wrote a prophetic piece on Rask over at his Goalie Guild website back on August 27, 2012, leading off with this gem:

For a highly-touted prospect of Rask’s caliber, the pressure to win rises interdependently with expectations. Regardless, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he’ll transition from being an “elite backup” to a “workhorse starter” smoothly. He’s not a kid anymore, he has a healthy dose of NHL experience, and he has witnessed both the drama of the Stanley Cup playoffs and the “highs and lows” of an 82-game season.

You can (and should) read the entire post here.

Indeed, Rask followed that path albeit through the challenges of a lockout-shortened season in 2012-13, but leading his team’s charge to the 2013 Stanley Cup final series, where the B’s lost a hard-fought six-game tug of war to the Chicago Blackhawks. That performance affirmed Boston’s belief in Rask and set the stage for an eight-year extension worth an average of $7 million per season, signed in July of that year.

He justified that investment with his Vezina Trophy as part of Boston’s President’s Trophy march in 2014, but aside from an elite January 2015 run, struggled to maintain his form and consistency, finishing with season totals far below his norm. Even with that, the B’s missed the playoffs on the last night of the regular season, which leads us to where we sit today.

Style analysis: Rask is the prototypical modern NHL goaltender: He’s a tall, lean, long-limbed butterfly style stopper who possesses the tremendous reflexes and competitive drive to thrive at the highest level. From a technical standpoint, he’s nearly flawless- he stays square to the shooter, tracks the puck effortlessly, reads the developing play and utilizes a smooth yet explosive side-to-side push to negate cross-ice puck movement and scoring chances. He does have a tendency to sometimes get away from the less-is-more economy of motion that top netminders employ to max benefit.

Here’s Goldman on that:

Like many naturally gifted reflex-based goalies, Rask has a tendency to over-amplify his movements. In some instances, he ends up in less-than-perfect positioning on rebound chances, or in scramble situations.

For him, there is such a thing as being too urgent in the crease. So when it comes to his recoveries, his post-save mechanics, or tracking pucks and staying square in frenzied situations, less is often more. When I look back at my scouting reports over the years, and when I dissect video, I come to the conclusion that sometimes he works way harder than is really necessary.

Overall, Rask’s style lends itself to providing shooters and elite finishers with the predicability that they can sometimes exploit to their advantage by putting the puck where they know the goalie can’t stop it. But scoring is down around the league less because the equipment is bigger and more because there has never been a period of time in the NHL when the league has had more top-shelf athletes and competitors playing the position. Rask is a poster boy for the modern NHL goaltender with his swagger and ability to make tough saves look easy.

On the mental side, Rask looked tired and worn down by the end of the season, which is something to keep an eye on. He played in a franchise record-tying 70 games last year and at one point, appeared desperately in need of a break when Malcolm Subban took the start against St. Louis. When Subban was chased from the B’s net early in the second frame, a clearly flustered Rask had to come into the game in relief. The key takeaway here is that we cannot forget that these guys are not robots and even the best need time to step back and recharge the batteries.

Now: Entering the third year of his pact and at age 28, Rask is the linchpin of the B’s new season.

Though critics will point to his lack of a Stanley Cup championship when debating his impact on the salary cap, even the most ardent, but intellectually honest of his critics will concede that Rask represents Boston’s best chance to make the playoffs *this* year, and as any savvy hockey person will tell you- whether in transition or in complete rebuild, if you don’t have a top goaltender, no matter what you do, you’re not likely to get far.

The key to Rask’s success lies not only with a defense that admittedly has more than a few questions headed into the new year, but also with whom the B’s will turn for backup duties. Niklas Svedberg didn’t work out, but if veteran (and fellow) Swede Jonas Gustavsson plays well in camp and the exhibition season, he’ll likely get a one-year deal at the minimum to provide that capable relief. His biggest issue is durability, which might also provide several of the youngsters with a brief chance to show their mettle in the NHL on a limited basis. But for Rask’s and the team’s sake- the best bet is to go with Gustavsson.

The Bruins need that cocky swagger back from Rask, and he enters the season in his prime years, best positioned to put forth his best effort. We’ll soon find out if that will be enough.

Tuukka Rask (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Tuukka Rask (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Scouting dispatches: Twitter mailbag # 3

I’m back with a third edition of the Twitter hockey mailbag, where I solicit questions and followers hit me up on a variety of topics. This week’s mailbag has a little bit of everything, with some questions about the Bruins (mostly about prospects), some draft queries related to Auston Matthews and the process itself. Thanks as always to those who took the time to submit and if I didn’t get to a question you asked- apologies but keep trying.

 

Here’s the mailbag:

Since you focus on prospects, what is the organization doing wrong in prospect development and who is responsible?- Olsonic @BruinsScience

I won’t lie- wrestled with this question because of the way it is worded. Instead of trying to simply approach the question by answering what I think is “wrong” with the process, I’ll also attempt to point out some things I feel the team is doing right.

First of all, the Bruins are a long way from the old days when they would typically draft a player and then spend little to no time interacting with them as the majority of them returned to their junior clubs or played in the NCAA before they were ready to compete for a Boston job. There are some tough stories involving players like 1989 first-round draft pick Shayne Stevenson that would be hard to wrap your head around given the investment the B’s and all the other teams now (smartly) make in player development to help set the conditions for an eventual NHL payoff. Stevenson was a cautionary tale, but he was far from the only promising player to never reach his big league potential, and the Bruins are hardly the only NHL team to move on from a talented young player because something was just not there to justify the expense.

In getting to your question- prospect development is not a black and white issue. It depends on a lot of different factors, only some of which are- overall talent/ability, draft position, character/work ethic, maturity, and a big one I don’t think enough people put weight into- the drafting team’s roster opportunities. In a perfect world, every first-round pick would just show up to camp, plug right into his allotted position and go off to enjoy success, but the world we live in is far from perfect.

Without writing a book here, I get the consternation over departures of young core players like Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton, but simply pointing to the team and trying to allocate responsibility to any one individual is an exercise in futility. Could the teams have done things differently to keep both players in the fold? Perhaps. Could the players have done more to instill confidence in their commitment to the team and/or expressed more of a desire to be in Boston over the long haul? Possibly. When you’re dealing with people and personalities, developing prospects becomes more art than science, so the best thing the Bruins can do is try and capture lessons learned from disappointments and successes alike.

The Bruins spend considerable time and resources working with their prospects and trying to bring them along at a pace that will set them up for success when it eventually is time for them to be pros and make a run at an NHL career. Player coach Jay Pandolfo joined the team in a full-time capacity last season to mentor the youngsters and his own experiences having come up through the ranks at Burlington High and Boston University before winning several Stanley Cups. A respected defensive forward who spent most of his nearly 900-game NHL career with the New Jersey Devils means he has a broad base of experience and wisdom to impart. He was a second-round pick as an offensive player at the lower levels but had to reinvent himself as a defensive forward to keep younger, more skilled players at bay for years as he skated in the big show. I think he’ll continue to relate well to Boston’s prospects and provide a good example for them going forward.

In the end, no matter how good a team’s developmental program is or how much money they pump into it, not everyone is going to play in the NHL with the team that drafted them, and unfortunately, some high picks will fall off along the way. If we only ask what’s wrong with something while not making an effort to find out what’s right in any given situation, it’s a good bet that we’re missing out on a significant part of the equation.

 

How good is Austin Matthews [sic]? Better than Eichel?- RJ @mrshark444

I’d say an acronym that fits for Auston Matthews is PDG- Pretty (Darned) Good. He’s got the size, skating and offensive skills to be a threat on each and every shift. He’s still developing his 200-foot game, but there’s a reason he’s the early favorite to be the NHL draft’s top selection next June. He looked the part of a top NHL prospect at the USA WJC camp last month, and I can’t wait to see how he acquits himself in Switzerland’s top pro league this year.

As far as him being “better” than Eichel, that’s not something I’m interested in tackling right now. Those two will have a chance to settle that debate in the NHL eventually, and I’ll leave it to them to let their play do the talking when the time comes.

 

(Joe) Morrow, (Zach) Trotman, and (Colin) Miller- what areas do they need to work on to make the NHL roster, respectively?- Chuck Finley @cnjs5kpj

I would not be surprised to see all three on the Boston roster at some point this season, but the chance of the trio being in the lineup at the same time is less likely to happen in my view.

Morrow has the skating, passing and shot you look for in the more offense-minded defensemen, but the irony with him in his 15-game audition last year is that he looked more like a conservative, stay-at-home D playing more not to lose than opening it up and giving his team the chance to benefit from what he does best- pushing the pace and running the power play. Now, it’s certainly possible that Claude Julien and Doug Houda told Morrow to keep it simple, but I think that if he’s going to be a regular this year, he’ll have to show more flash in terms of using his speed to lead the rush and back defenses up. He needs to be more assertive in the offensive end, because the B’s have plenty better defense-minded players than Morrow- they don’t need another one.

Trotman needs to keep raising his execution level while playing situational hockey for the Bruins. He’s big and pretty fluid for his size, but he’s not all that physical nor projects as a consistent point producer, so he’ll have to be most effective at even strength to earn the coaches’ trust. That means he’s going to have to play a smart positional game, use his long reach and strength to keep attackers to the outside and cut down on the mental mistakes that have at times have been noticeable. I like his chances of grabbing a 5/6 role right out of camp the best of the three.

Miller is interesting- he’s a late bloomer; a latter-round pick who has superb skating chops and a big shot who is coming off a far more productive AHL season than the one Morrow, a former 1st-rounder, just had. He’s mature and talented enough to make the big club right away, but the B’s will have to balance how he performs at camp and preseason with the kind of role they want to give him. He’s not known as a particularly instinctive player, so while he has the wheels and howitzer, there’s much more to it than that, so he’ll have to demonstrate enough of a defensive awareness so that they keep him up rather than try to get him more seasoning in the minors.

How’s Peter Cehlarik coming along?– John C @JohnnyRiingo

Cehlarik had a better 2014-15 campaign than he did the year before, when he bounced around to several teams in different leagues and never settled in. I see him playing one more year in Sweden with Lulea and then signing and coming over to North America either at the end of this year or for the start of 2015-16 to play in Providence or possibly Boston.

On the positive side, I like the Slovak’s size, long arms and shot release and accuracy. He’s one of those players who can make an electrifying play with the puck on one shift and then score a mundane, take-out-the-garbage kind of goal a few minutes later. He’s got some dangle and creativity with the puck.

He’s not a plus skater, but he does have a long stride, so he tends to look like he’s gliding around sometimes. He’s not all that heavy on the puck and I know that different Bruins scouts have told me that they want to see a little more “want to” in his game at times.

The Bruins don’t have a lot of similar players to Cehlarik in their system, but I don’t know that he projects to be a high-end, top-six forward in the NHL, even if the tools are there. He’s an intriguing player, but I want to see how he adjusts to the North American game first.

How mad should I really be that the B’s gave away Dougie Hamilton?– Lundeaner @Deaner1000

The Bruins didn’t “give away” Hamilton, though I understand where you are going here.

If your point is to be mad because they didn’t get NHL players who are known commodities at this level and are ready to step in and perform right away, that’s a legitimate gripe. Whether salary cap dictated what direction the B’s went in when Don Sweeney made the decision to move him or something else, that Boston defense took a step backwards and there’s no sugarcoating that.

However- I’d just offer up that once upon a time (in 2002), people griped about the Bruins letting Bill Guerin “walk for nothing,” only a funny thing happened a year later- they used the compensation pick for him on Patrice Bergeron and the rest is history. They used the 45th pick on him in 2003 and this past June, one of the three picks they got from Calgary for Hamilton was No. 45- Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson– who reminds folks of a young Bergeron. Zachary Senyshyn and Jeremy Lauzon are two more players who could one day help turn the trade in Boston’s favor.

With the Hamilton trade there is no question the B’s accepted a lot of risk on the return from Calgary and it might end up on the negative ledger in the long run. I’m certainly not going to try and sell it as a win for Boston in September 2015, so if you want to be mad, I won’t try to stop you. But, if the scouts got it right with those three players, we might not be too concerned that Hamilton is out in Western Canada in about 3-5 years…that’s a big “if” though, and with jobs potentially on the line- the B’s must get something out of these three picks.

 

Any chance Noel Acciari and or The Planet’s kid play on the 4th Line this season? Can’t see Chris Kelly down there all year– Mark Clinton @mark_clinton

Is there a chance? Sure- there’s always a chance, but how much of one is the question, and I’m not sure Acciari will be at the top of the list of players to be called up to Boston in his first pro season, with a bit of a glut of more experienced wingers to choose from.

Does he have the maturity to do it? I think so- he’s someone I have followed since his days as a Kent Lion and Acciari’s game lends itself to fourth line duty. By the same token, unless he’s so much better than everyone else vying for fourth line duty, I’m of the opinion that the chance to play more of a role in the AHL is probably more beneficial to Acciari at this stage of his development.

I guess we’ll find out. I wouldn’t have a problem with Acciari getting that chance, but without seeing how he looks in camp or performs at the AHL level, it’s not a hill I am going to die on either way.

 

How should the Bruins manage their goalie assets? Do B’s have any chance at getting a reasonable return, or is best bet to develop?- Greg Babbitt @babbitt_greg

The two are not mutually exclusive and it’s about doing what management feels is going to make the team better.

That’s why instead of keeping a more proven Martin Jones in the fold right after acquiring him from the Kings, they moved him for other assets while saving the money re-signing him would have counted against the cap. Part of that no doubt was to accommodate Jones’ desire to have a chance to start somewhere, which wasn’t going to happen this year in Boston barring an injury, but part of it was deciding to get a solid, closer-to-being-ready NHL prospect and a potential lottery pick next June for a guy who would have been sitting more than playing.

Throwing out the fact that they don’t currently have a proven NHL commodity to back up Tuukka Rask, they have three solid assets and I’m not sure trading one makes a whole lot of sense right now given how little depth they truly have if Rask gets injured. Daniel Vladar is not pro-ready, so beyond Jeremy Smith, Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre, there isn’t a large safety net for contingencies. I still think they’ll bring a veteran with some level of NHL experience into the mix before camp- either through invitation or with a low-cost, take-the-minimum-while-you-can money so as not to throw their backup hopes behind a trio of guys who have less than one NHL game between them.

As for the reasonable return versus developing them question, I’ve never understood the segment of fans that immediately jumped up and assumed Subban would be traded when the B’s signed Rask to his big extension in 2013. When the Bruins acquired Rask in 2006, the B’s had Tim Thomas and Hannu Toivonen as their goalies entering the 06-07 season, and even when Thomas continued to perform at a high level as the starter (except for his injury-riddled 2009-10 season), Rask had to bide his time. Why wouldn’t the B’s employ a similar patient approach to Subban and/or McIntyre while their veteran continues to be the No. 1 in Boston?

It all comes down to protecting the club against catastrophe, and that’s what the team will be facing if it loses Rask for an extended period anytime soon. If you don’t think you can get the kind of return that justifies the investment you’ve made in a player, there is nothing wrong with holding onto him and seeing if he can deliver on the promise that prompted the team to draft him in the first place. At that point, he either wins a bigger job with the NHL squad or he increases his trade value, but there’s no set answer that applies universally.

I believe the Bruins have done it the right way, but I also thought Niklas Svedberg would succeed as the backup a year ago based on his AHL track record in Providence.

 

What are the most important attributes you look for in prospects? Personally think hockey sense & work ethic should trump all– Hash Marks @hash_marks

Thanks for the question- I enjoy getting ones like this.

Those are two important attributes for sure, but in the end, I’m of the belief that you can’t apply a cookie cutter-type approach when it comes to evaluating players, so I do my best to evaluate them on their own merits without introducing too much personal and preferential bias into the process up front.

Hockey sense and work ethic will likely result in a smart hockey player who is driven to succeed, but based on his position, would a lack of size and skating be enough for those areas to overcome those deficiencies? I’ve seen some players who possessed elite hockey sense never reach the NHL because they were smaller and couldn’t skate well enough- it happens and some guys have the misfortune to get drafted by NHL teams whose systems aren’t the right fits for their strengths and weaknesses.

I’m a big proponent of the “foxhole test” in terms of asking whether you’d want to go to war with a player to measure that individual’s character and mental toughness. Because of my military background and a few trips to the big sandbox, I often find that I have some pretty high standards in that regard, but there are always a few guys each and every year who answer the foxhole test question with a resounding yes in my mind. At the same time- you have to be able to skate and up and down a 200-foot sheet of ice and put a vulcanized rubber disk into a 4 x 6-foot cage past a highly athletic and (often times) tall guy with octopus-like arms and whose gear would make Sir Lancelot jealous. How hard someone works or ferocious their character may help them do that, but I’m not sure that “trumps” other attributes that might lend themselves to being a better scorer or defenseman. So- while I don’t disagree that hockey sense and work ethic are key components in the evaluation process, I’m not ready to definitively say that those attributes  are enough to take precedence over the other skills/tools in a vacuum.

It’s a balancing act, and every team and the scouts they employ do things differently than everyone else. How much of a difference varies, but it’s a big reason why drafting future NHLers tends to produce such varied results, especially in the later rounds when so many of these players hit their stride later and end up being better pros than a lot of guys taken ahead of them.

Boston Bruins 2015-16 season preview: Goaltenders

1. In retrospect: It was a season of discontent in Boston as the Bruins watched Pittsburgh smoke the hapless Buffalo Sabres on the final night of the 2014-15 regular season to take the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and relegate the B’s to the late spring sidelines for the first time since 2007.

Goaltending played a part in Boston’s early trip to the links. Tuukka Rask and Niklas Svedberg played their part in the unsuccessful season to be sure, but you can make the case that if not for Rask’s Vezina-caliber talent on many nights, Boston’s fall from the top-eight in the East would have been even more precipitous than it was. Draft watchers will tell you that it might not have been such a bad thing for that to happen, but for a team with higher expectations going in, Rask was often the most consistent glue that gave the fans hope that a better team was hiding behind the curtain of up-and-down play.

Unfortunately, Svedberg did not inspire enough confidence from head coach Claude Julien to earn more starts that might have given Rask more of an opportunity to re-charge and re-focus later in the year when every point was at a premium. Boston’s drop from having the third-best offense in 2013-14 to 22nd last year, not to mention the gaping hole Johnny Boychuk’s pre-opening night departure to Long Island certainly put a significant amount of pressure on the men between the pipes, and we can argue all day about Svedberg’s viability as an NHL backup and that his overall numbers (7-5-1, 2.33 GAA, .918 save percentage) should have been worthy of more than 18 total appearances. The plain truth is, however- Julien did not put him into games with much regularity because he didn’t believe in him. It’s the classic saw- don’t tell me how good someone is- show me. And I get it- the statistics paint a better picture of Svedberg than he showed with his playing time and overall performance. But, in the end, Julien had ample opportunity to put Svedberg in and passed, instead going with Rask to the point that the body language seemed to indicate that Boston’s starter was frustrated with not getting more of a break (I would add, too, that Julien could have thrown Jeremy Smith into an NHL game later in the year but opted not to do that, either). The fact that no other NHL team was eager to line up for the Swede’s services after Boston informed him of their decision not to re-sign him tells you that the B’s coach is not the only one who wasn’t willing to invest in Svedberg, now playing in the KHL this year.

So, that brings us to the dawn of a new NHL season in Boston.

Tuukka Rask (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Tuukka Rask (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

2. The view from here: Not much has changed in the state of Massachusetts since the team packed up their stuff and headed home after game 82. Rask is still the top man in net, entering the third of his eight-year, $56 million pact signed after the team’s run to the Stanley Cup final series in 2013. At 28, he is firmly in his prime and has a 2014 Vezina Trophy to go with his reputation as one of the NHL’s top workhorse netminders. Like Henrik Lundqvist, a Stanley Cup ring (as starter) still eludes him- he came oh-so-close against Chicago, but the Bruins have taken steps backwards since that first post-lockout postseason.

Rask played a career-best 70 games in 2015, and in the modern NHL, these athletes are physically capable of playing all 82 games, just as former Bruin Eddie Johnston was the last goalie in team history to play every minute of the Boston season (70 games, 4200 minutes in 1963-64), but physics and reality can be two different things. Rask numbers were down compared to his previous and personal best 2013-14 campaign, but plenty of NHL clubs would embrace a guy who posted 34 wins and a .922 save percentage despite having an offense in the bottom third and a defense that often played not to lose in front of him.

The questions that seed ongoing debates, however, is just because they *can* do it- *should* NHL teams entrust huge swathes of the regular season to just one player, then expect them to thrive in another potential of a maximum 28 games in the playoffs? What is the mental and emotional toll of playing so many games under the pressure-packed conditions that NHL goaltenders exist under? Some guys can handle and even thrive in that (see Brodeur, Martin) environment. Others, not as much. And- how effective the team in front of them is also factors into the equation as well.

Earlier this month, Rask told the Boston Globe this when asked about his 70 games last season and if it was too much:

http://www.bostonglobe.com/sports/2015/08/10/tuukka-rask-not-worried-about-his-workload-bruins-defense/FbOUF1PxG0QzHgvlAzkkTO/story.html

“No, not really. I don’t think you can put a number on it, but a lot of things depend on how tight the games are, how many games you play in a row, stuff like that.’’

“Last year happened to be 70. If it’s going to be like that, it’s going to be like that again. We’ll play it by ear.”

To those who would wave their hands dismissively over the concern about the number of games he’ll play in 2015-16, my response is- OF COURSE HE’S GOING TO SAY THAT! These players are professional athletes and competitors/type-A personalities! Furthermore, they also have a stake in not making public statements that would allow opponents to leverage that to an advantage against their own team. You can’t have it both ways, guys- you can’t question what players say when you don’t like what it is they are being quoted on, but then point to other things they say on the record with absolute certainty when it validates your own point of view. In other words, I would actually be critical of Rask had he come out and said “Yeah- I think 60 games is about my regular season limit and the team had better play great in front of me or the GM’s gonna have some work to do,” because you simply don’t admit weakness- even if that might constitute the proverbial elephant in the room. Rask played it exactly right, but whether he truly feels that way or not is something only he can answer and it won’t be in the Globe or anywhere else.

Rask gets criticized in some circles for not having won the big games for the B’s, but that is far too simplistic an argument to make and smacks of an agenda aimed at his cap hit. His $7 million AAV is a major bone of contention for fans who think the team can spend that money better elsewhere. The problem with that thinking is- just who, exactly, is going to replace Rask? It’s absurd to argue at this point in time (August 2015) that any one of Malcolm Subban, Zane McIntyre or Smith are up to the challenge of matching Rask’s production and trust. Which brings us back to the current situation: Tuukka Rask is Boston’s main man in net and still very much in the upper tier of NHL goalies at this stage of his career. Should any of the prospects emerge with the promise to stop pucks a the NHL level, Boston GM Don Sweeney will at least have some options to go back and evaluate Rask’s long-term viability with the team, but in all reality- trading an All-Star in his prime without anything less than a guaranteed return (not bloody likely) would be a fool’s errand.

The onus is on Julien and his staff to better balance Rask’s workload if they think that is the issue, but 10 shootout losses (the Bruins were actually 9-4 in OT during 4-on-4 play- a bright spot for them) a year ago says that what ails this team goes well beyond simply giving more starts to the backup.

3. Who’s No. 2?: As Yogi Berra said- it’s deja vu all over again. Boston is about to enter the season with a collective 31 minutes worth of NHL experience at the backup position split between Subban, McIntyre and Smith.

Subban survived a scoreless first 20 minutes against St. Louis in his NHL debut last year by facing only a handful of shots only to see things come unraveled in an 11-minute horror show in the second, resulting in Rask coming back in for relief. You can’t put that all on Subban, and a lot of ink has been spilled arguing that he would have been in a better position making his first start against the Edmonton Oilers a few nights earlier. Either way- Subban has the talent if not the pro experience to play in the NHL. The biggest issue with that is we’re talking about a soon-to-be 22-year-old who has yet to enjoy a run as starter at the AHL level. His statistical performances in the last two years with Providence are fine- indicative of being a first-round selection, but the one crack in the armor happens to be the number of games played. Last year, Subban was expected to take the No. 1 role and run with it, but it was the AHL journeyman Smith who ultimately earned Bruce Cassidy’s trust when the games mattered most.

Smith is back on the cheap with another 1-year contract. He played 39 games for Providence last season posting a highly impressive .933 save percentage. I actually saw him live in one of his worst performances (neither he nor Jeff Zatkoff had a good night in net) and although he gave up several softies in the first 40 minutes that had the Dunk Center crowd gasping in frustration, he slammed the door home in the final 10 minutes, making multiple scintillating saves before Alex Khokhlachev won the game in the final 180 seconds. Sometimes, we have to remember that way back in 2007, Smith was a top-60 NHL draft selection, so it’s not like he’s a nobody. At age 25, he looked like someone who was never going to reach the NHL, but one year later, my guess is- he’ll see time in Boston if nothing else changes. What he does with that time, however, is anyone’s guess.

Having said all of that- aren’t the B’s doing exactly what they did a year ago with Svedberg, who had started just one NHL game?

If I have to choose today the best option between the three goalies not named Rask currently under contract, Smith makes the most sense to be the team’s backup on opening night. But, I also believe the team is risking more of the same in terms of a heavy workload for Rask and very little in the way of a safety net should he get injured at all. For those reasons, I cannot imagine them going into the new season without someone like Jonas Gustvasson or Ray Emery or even Viktor Fasth on an NHL deal to build a little risk mitigation into the equation. If you just threw up a little in your mouth at that last sentence- I hear you. But this team has too much invested in the roster to simply throw caution to the wind and trust the youngsters at this point.

Subban is the most talented of the signed backup candidates, but sitting him on the bench for extended periods in lieu of forcing him to hone his technique and build up experience by establishing himself as a No. 1 at the AHL level would be a mistake. Ditto McIntyre, who doesn’t even have a pro body of work to reference. Does anyone really think that it benefits him to sit and watch most nights when Rask is taking the net and then expecting him to thrive when he goes in every fourth or fifth game? Just because he has the mental toughness and character to possibly do it doesn’t mean that he should. Finally- Smith has to be put on waivers to go down. What if…when the Bruins decided hypothetically to go with one of the kids to start the year, another team lost a goalie to injury and claims Smith away from Boston? It’s happened to Boston before and the results weren’t pretty. If you can remember the 2000-01 season when the B’s were forced to run with Andrew Raycroft and Kay Whitmore (all because Buffalo claimed the immortal Peter Skudra on waivers) in tandem, you get a gold star. That team, too, barely missed the playoffs and would have had a different fate had Byron Dafoe and John Grahame been available the whole year.

Malcolm Subban (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Malcolm Subban (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

4. Looking to the future: Between Subban and McIntyre, the B’s have two promising young prospects. But that’s what they are right now…prospects. This team, as currently constructed, is hard-pressed to make the playoffs let alone contend, so there is little upside to forcing either player into the 2015-16 lineup unless injuries or their own play at the lower level gives the team no choice.

McIntyre will play in the NHL one day. He’s got the right mix of talent and heart. But that day is not today, in my view. There’s a lot he can learn in the AHL, and while he undoubtedly would love to make the Bruins out of camp, he’s better served seeing some time at the pro level outside of the NHL pressure cooker. For now. But just because I think he should apprentice in the AHL first does not mean he won’t go all the way. I believe he’s got “it”- all things in good time.

I like the Daniel Vladar pick in the third round this past June, but I don’t love it. He’s the epitome of what NHL clubs are trending to: massive (6-5), athletic/toolsy guys in net that give shooters very little to hit other than their oversized bodies and long limbs. The problem with Vladar right now is that technique-wise he’s a hot mess…he’s inconsistent with his stance and positioning, lets in more than a few goals that go through him- hit a portion of his body/equipment but still squeak by (coaches hate that, btw), gets real scrambly at times with his play and I’m not sure about the mental toughness yet. He’s as raw as they come, but make no mistake- he’s got the things you can’t teach, so why not? He was a solid value where the Bruins took him, so no issues on that front. Like McIntyre in 2010, he’s a long way off from being NHL ready. Vladar is playing in the USHL this year and will either go the NCAA route or probably play in one of the major junior leagues next season.

So in getting back to Subban and especially McIntyre, people love to talk about the shiny new toy, but the Bruins have an obligation to cultivate and protect their assets, too. Rushing goaltenders into primetime before they are ready, no matter how much they’ve accomplished in junior or the NCAA, rarely bears fruit. There’s a time and place for it, and even Rask, who spent two full seasons in the AHL and this despite the fact that he was playing a near AHL-equivalent level in the Finnish pro league for two more years before he crossed the Atlantic, didn’t jump right in, and he had to work with Tim Thomas and spend a good deal of time sitting on the bench before he became the team’s true No. 1. That’s how it should work in most cases, and when fans apply that “fast food” mentality to goalies (Gotta have it hot and right now!), it’s not really the way the world works.

Zane McIntyre and Bruins goalie coach Bob Essensa (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Zane McIntyre and Bruins goalie coach Bob Essensa (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

5. The verdict: Some 2,500 words later we’re back to a basic truism: you cannot win a hockey game if you don’t score any goals.

Rask will give the Bruins a chance to win every night. Unfortunately, for those who fear the team being not good enough to make the playoffs let alone contend for a Stanley Cup but being too good to finish in the basement where the Connor McDavid types (how long before we see another one like him?) fall into their laps, Rask brings little solace. He’s kind of like an in-his-prime Sean Burke, whose at times brilliance on some very mediocre Hartford Whalers teams in the early-to-mid 90’s is one of the forgotten story lines of that era. Those Whalers teams couldn’t make the playoffs, but they were on the close-but-no-cigar side of the spectrum so aside from Chris Pronger in 1993 (Burke’s worst year in the Insurance Capital), they could not build through the draft (trading their 1st rounders from 1995-97 to Boston for Glen Wesley didn’t exactly help either).

Watch for the makeup of Boston’s goalie group to change before camp opens up- the team will sign someone on the cheap with NHL experience to provide competition and see how things shake out. If Smith is lights out, then maybe he earns the job, but as it stands right now, there are far more questions than answers with the No. 2.

The Bruins have a winner in net, but without a quality supporting cast up front, and a capable backup the coach trusts to give the workhorse some meaningful rest throughout the marathon of a hockey season,we’ll see history repeating itself in Boston this year. Unless something changes- even when on top of his game, Rask is not enough to make the B’s more than they are: a middle-of-the-pack, bubble club to make the 2016 playoffs.

(Thanks to Ali Foley for permission to use her photos in this post)

Scouting Post Dispatches- Twitter mailbag #1

I want to thank everyone who submitted questions to me for the first edition of the electronic mailbag of questions. If you want to participate in this effort that we’ll do every two weeks or so, shoot your question to my Twitter account @kluedeke29 or use the comment feature on the blog itself to make your query.

1. Who is leading in the race for backup goalie and how short will their leash be?- Tyler @tylerbingham123

As a former beer league goalie, I’ll give this one a shot.

The current backup situation invites a lot of risk in my view. On paper, Jeremy Smith makes a lot of sense because of his low cap hit and the fact that the Bruins can afford to let him sit for long periods while Tuukka Rask makes a lot of starts. Smith was the most dependable option in net last year in the AHL, but that’s also the issue with him- he has no NHL experience, which essentially puts them right back to square 1 where they were a year ago when they gambled on a similarly inexperienced Niklas Svedberg to be the No. 2.

Some might point to the idea that Svedberg was a serviceable player who was poorly used, but the bottom line is that Claude Julien had very little confidence in him. There are compelling statistical arguments that Svedberg wasn’t utilized properly, but be that as it may- a good backup goaltender enjoys the trust of the coach and team to spell the starter in a lot of different situations. That Julien seemed almost perversely unwilling to use Svedberg when it appeared Rask needed a break the most is beside the point if you believe that going to the well with Rask repeatedly cost the Bruins a playoff spot in 2015. Part of what helped the Bruins earn the President’s Trophy the season before had to do with backup Chad Johnson and Julien’s willingness to give him starts and ease the starter’s burden. Johnson can’t be a starter in this league, but he was an effective backup in his one season with the B’s.

The question becomes- will Smith find himself in a similar predicament to Svedberg? Can the Bruins afford to have a repeat of last spring, when Rask went on a hockey-like death march of consecutive starts without rest because the head coach was not willing to put the backup in? This is the same kind of scenario the Bruins are inviting with Smith and Malcolm Subban or Zane McIntyre as well- all three are capable options on paper, but none are established NHL players- with Subban alone of the trio even having seen a minute of big league action.

On Subban- I just feel he’s better off playing his way into a more prominent role in the AHL with Providence while McIntyre apprentices behind him. Heck- McIntyre might even wrest more starts away from him like Smith did a year ago, but as fine a goalie as Zane looks like coming out of college as the NCAA’s top goalie last season, he’s still in his very first pro year. Expecting him to just go right to the NHL and then have to sit behind Rask most nights is not a realistic option in my view.

So- I think Smith makes the most sense as B’s backup as of July 31, but I still think the team will look to add someone with more of an NHL body of work, either as a bargain bin signing or training camp invite with the option to sign before the season if the coaches feel good about him. Who that is at this point is anyone’s guess- I thought Jason LaBarbera would be someone to fit the bill, but the best of the free agents are gone, so the team might just feel like going with Smith or one of the other kids depending on things go at camp and preseason is the best option. We’ll see, but I’m a believer that younger guys like Subban and McIntyre are best served by playing and not spending the bulk of their time opening and closing the door to the bench for their NHL teammates. We’ll see.

2. If Koko pushes Spooner out of 3C job, what happens with the two of them? Leave Spooner there and try Koko on wing? Jbench @jacobbench

The short answer to this question is that I don’t see Alexander Khokhlachev beating Ryan Spooner out of the 3C job anytime soon.

At this point, Spooner has done a lot to earn Claude Julien’s trust as someone who has grown up a lot over the years he’s been in the organization and finally started putting the offense together when the team needed it the most. Koko needs to prove he can do the basic things the team expects of him, so until that happens, it does no real good to fret over what to do. I will say that Koko is probably better suited to transition to wing and be effective there, and if he’s going to break camp and enter the 2015-16 on the NHL roster, that’s probably his best chance to do it unless Spooner gets hurt or plays so poorly against a lights-out showing from Koko.

That’s not impossible, but  it is a tall order. I think Koko fell victim to the hype machine that often occurs in the internet age- he simply wasn’t ready to compete for NHL time at 18, but that didn’t stop overzealous fans and analysts like myself from being dazzled by his offensive talent and overlooking the glaring defensive deficiencies in his game. He’s come a long way since 2011, but the team tried to trade him in the past and you can’t overlook that. If he is as valuable to the Bruins as he is on Twitter to a select group of folks- he would not have been in play. It’s the old adage that says if they traded you once- they’ll do it again. It would be great for Koko to establish himself as a Bruin, but as far as trade-worthy commodities go, he’s one of the few pieces that could fetch something of value right now.

3. Where do you see Mark Jankowski projecting to in an NHL lineup? Thoughts on John Gilmour as well please Nigel @red_monster

Jankowski still has top-six  NHL forward potential in my mind, and he was really starting to come on when Providence College needed him to. With an earlier-than-projected draft position comes high expectations, so I believe realistically, if he makes it in Calgary it will be more of a third-line center role. When you look at who is ahead of him on the depth chart, third line duty with the Flames would be a win for him and the team.  I do like that there is still room for growth and development with him, even if he’s fallen short of some of the lofty goals envisioned of him three years ago with his pure points and production, which has admittedly not been what everyone was hoping for. He’ll have to continue to get stronger and play heavier if he’s going to make it in Calgary, though.

Gilmour has the makings of a serviceable pro who is going to have to put in the work at the lower levels. He has good all around ability, but because he has less-than-ideal size for the position, he’ll have his work cut out for him. I personally think Gilmour is a journeyman big leaguer/solid AHL player at best, but I love it when players prove prognosticators wrong. He’s a winner, and if he uses that as a springboard to bigger things, more power to him.

What Bruins dman is most likely to slot alongside Chara? Greg Babbitt @babbitt_greg

Barring a change, I could see the team trying big Zach Trotman there to see if it can work. He lacks experience, but showed big league ability in flashes last season and if he keeps things simple, his mobility and long reach would make for a solid defensive partner. He’s a right shot and while not a physical, snarly kind of player, with more experience and the benefit of skating next to one of the game’s all-time greats much like young Kyle McLaren did with Ray Bourque two decades ago, Trotman might be a quiet but effective internal solution to that which has vexed the Bruins since Johnny Boychuk was sent to Long Island…kind of like what happened in 2009 when Johnny Rocket came to town and established himself as an NHL defenseman when some had all but written him off.

If the Bruins want to infuse more offense with Chara, then Colin Miller also makes sense there. He doesn’t have a lick of NHL experience, but he skates extremely well, would add another right-shot, howitzer cannon from the point, and seems to be a player who would thrive next to Boston’s captain, especially on the power play. He’s not as big as Trotman, and his hockey sense is a bit of a question mark right now, but Miller could be the one who takes that top pairing job if not on opening night, but perhaps as the season progresses.

Assuming Miller plays for the Bruins this season (I believe he will) the Barry Pederson for Cam Neely trade will continue for Boston into a third decade as the Glen Wesley-Sergei Samsonov-Milan Lucic branch continues to bear fruit.

4. I’d like to see Hamilton/Saad stick with their teams for longer. But do scouts think the current model is bad for development?- brimcq @mcqbri

It’s not something I’ve discussed with scouts or management types to be honest, but it makes for an intriguing topic.

Ever since the league instituted cost certainty- the salary cap- in 2005, we’ve seen the game’s economic landscape evolve over several trend lines. For a while, it was long-term frontloaded deals that allowed for teams to bury or move them at short money later on. Now, it’s the dissipation of second or bridge contracts for key performers coming out of entry-level contracts or ELCs in favor of significant dollars- those used to be reserved for top tier talents, but I think we’re seeing a paradigm shift with players like Dougie Hamilton and Brandon Saad whose cap-crunched teams are either forced to move them or the player is able to leverage the lack of cap flexibility for a change of address. This drives the talk of the NHL’s middle class getting squeezed, which is becoming more and more prevalent as clubs will have bigger ticket contracts and then have to rely on cheaper ELCs or bargain basement deals with little room for the middle ground/solid veteran types who typically clock in at around $3-4M a the current (and rising) market rate.

Hockey is a business- it always has been. But the days where owners and teams held the cards are long gone, so I think that teams and players/their representatives will continue to evolve with each emerging economic trend. I don’t blame Hamilton for seeking a situation he thought would be better for him, and in Saad’s case, they made a decision that they could not afford him at the going rate- that was a tough business decision that more and more teams will have to make if things continue. But, both situations have jolted teams and fans alike into the realization that you can’t simply assume restricted free agents will remain all that restricted for long depending on a team’s salary structure and how much they have invested in the veterans.

At some point- you wonder if the ever-rising salaries and the kabuki dances teams go through to stay cap compliant will kill the golden goose and force a seismic sea change, but it hasn’t happened yet.

5. With the Bruins prospect pool now overflowing who would be consider the 5 untouchables in the organization.- Mike O’Connor @mike77ca

The Bruins have quantity in their system for sure. The quality of the prospects is very much up for debate, however so it will be interesting to see how the 10 picks from 2015 plus the others from previous years perform and develop in the new season.

I don’t know that when it comes to prospects there is ever truly an “untouchable” because if another team is willing to pay a king’s ransom for an unproven player, I believe a savvy GM will often times make that deal. Of course- that position is becoming tougher to defend for the precise reasons I explained above as economics and the importance of landing impact players on 3-year (max) ELCs becomes ever more critical for teams who want to win the Stanley Cup. It’s hard to imagine the Edmonton Oilers or Buffalo Sabres parting with either one of Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel for any offer given that reasoning, but I do believe that GMs have to at least listen and think hard about a team that comes in with high-end NHL players to offer, not the proverbial two dimes and a nickel for a shiny quarter kind of trade. In the end, the money and cap play much bigger roles than ever before.

The Bruins don’t have a McDavid or Eichel so to speak, so their situation is different. I’ll take a stab at it and offer these three players up in an effort to answer your question:

1. Danton Heinen, LW Denver U.- I have it from several sources that the one name teams asked about repeatedly at last winter’s deadline was the 2014 fourth-rounder who finished as the NCAA’s third leading freshman scorer. He may not have ideal size or speed, but his hands and hockey sense are top-shelf. As a late bloomer, Heinen has the look and feel of a classic diamond-in-the-rough who is going to one day play very well for the Bruins, so unless a team wants to give up the moon and stars for him, don’t expect him to go anywhere. His upside will also likely drive the team to court him to come out of school earlier because ELC term and CBA loopholes will force them to act.

2. Zane McIntyre, G Providence- The B’s are all-in on this kid, and he showed loyalty to them by not exploiting free agency to get the biggest money or a better opportunity to start elsewhere. Now, folks will say there is no room for sentiment in pro sports and they’re right, but I just feel like that Bruins are sold on the soon-to-be 23-year-old’s potential, character and all-around ability. They want him to be a part of the organization, so unless a team comes in to blow their doors off with an offer, he’s as close to untouchable as you will get. Besides, unproven non-NHL goalies don’t tend to fetch enough of a return from teams to make dealing him at this point worth the effort.

3. Jakub Zboril, D Saint John- He’s the top pick, he’s signed and the Bruins think he is going to be a future top-2 defender for them. Both Don Sweeney and Scott Bradley used the word “elite” to describe his ability, so you can be sure the B’s had him higher on their list than the 13th spot where they took him. They’re not going to turn around and flip him without seeing if all that potential they’re banking on starts to pay off for them. You can almost throw Zach Senyshyn into this same category as well- they have a lot riding on him and want to prove that he was worth the risk they took by grabbing him in the top-15. It’s hard to imagine a team coming in to offer the Bruins a top-6 NHL forward for a raw prospect like Senyshyn, so they’ll sit back and see if their gut instincts about him are proven correct.

That does it for this first edition- thanks to everyone that submitted questions and I hope we can do this again in a couple of weeks. You can follow me on Twitter at @kluedeke29