Bruins Vatrano’s Future With Bruins Up In Air

( Above Photo Credit: DobberProspects .com )

By: Jesse Jimenez

Follow me on Twitter: @Jessemedscience

It wasn’t too long ago that Frank Vatrano burst onto the scene. The East Longmeadow, Ma native took the AHL by storm after scorching the league with 36-goals in as just as many games for the Providence Bruins. Vatrano, 23,  signed with the Bruins as a free agent after preceding his senior year at UMass Amherst. His quick release and powerful shot are well documented. The natural scoring ability impressed the Bruins brass enough to bring the pure sniper into the fold.

Vatrano managed to get into 39-games during the 2015-2016 season, potting 8-goals and 11-points in a limited role. In hopes of building off his NHL experience the previous season, Vatrano worked hard during the off-season focusing mainly on his conditioning and foot-speed. However, before the start of the 2016-2017 campaign, the 23-year old suffered an unfortunate left foot injury that resulted in torn ligaments. Although he managed to score 10-goals in 44-games his play was quite inconsistent — Perhaps a result of having a late start to the season.

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( Above Photo Credit:  nhl .com )

Despite his elite shot, Vatrano rarely was able to get in position to show it off. The inability to regularly find the open spots at the NHL level really hampered is offensive contribution to a team that was desperately looking for secondary scoring. The 2016-2017 season showed some glaring deficiencies in Vatrano’s game. The lack of puck-skills and vision in the offensive zone were pretty apparent at times where he would rush a shot instead of waiting out a defensemen or looking for second options. Puck management and keeping possession of the puck was also unimpressive attributes.

The lack of production and uninspired play could not have come at the worst time for Vatrano as fellow youngsters Danton Heinen, Jake DeBrusk and Anders Bjork look primed to challenge for an NHL job. There’s a LW vacancy on David Krejci’s line, one Vatrano clearly had the inside track on, but that in itself is now out of his control. Unfortunately, beyond the scoring prowess, there’s not much else to Vatrano’s game. Creativity is close to non-existent, and although he has decent speed, it takes him a while to reach full throttle.

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( Above Photo Credit:  usahockey .com )

Due to so many prospects on the cusp of skating on NHL ice this year Vatrano’s time with the Bruins may be coming to an end. With the club looking for top-4 options it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the young left-winger as part of a package in a trade. At the end of the day, Vatrano is still only 23-years old, and most of his short-comings are areas that a coaching staff can help the youngster refine. Whether he sees his full potential blossom in Boston or in a different sweater remains to be seen.

Signing Off,

Jesse “The Dominican PuckHead”

-Stay Inspired

Bruins: Duchene’s Worth The Gamble

(Above Photo Credit:  nhl .com )

By: Jesse Jiminez                                     Follow Me On Twitter @Jessemedscience 

It’s no secret the Boston Bruins are interested in acquiring Colorado Avalanche star center Matt Duchene. Reported asking price? A young top-4 defenseman. For Boston, that would be 20-year old Brandon Carlo, a price worth paying.

Ok — Hold the pitchforks and homemade Molotov… and let’s take an objective look at why this makes sense for the Bruins.

There are various variables when considering a trade of this magnitude. The state of the franchise, cap implications, organizational depth, core roster, and player projection.

As of today, it is safe to say the Bruins are in excellent shape moving forward on all of those fronts. Boston has one of the deepest prospect pools in the NHL and has as many as six rookies with legitimate shots at making the opening night roster. It’s a testament to the dedication Don Sweeney, and the front office has shown along with the willingness to commit to the process without deviating from it. It’s been evident through recent drafts that the Bruins staff do their homework on each individual player — Going off the board with many of their picks. It’s clear they have developed a formula for evaluating and projecting talent as Zach Senyshyn and Jake DeBrusk have proven. Their philosophy is apparently working and has helped shape the future of the Bruins franchise.

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( Above Photo Credit: nhl .com )

That being said, let’s be realistic here, not every prospect, as talented as they may be will be putting on a Bruins sweater. In a sense, through their careful and patient development process, the Bruins have created a prospect logjam — A luxury most teams would salivate for. This is what happens when so many players are close or ready to make the jump to the NHL. This is not a negative, of course, as it only illustrates the strength of the organizational depth that has been established. What it also brings to light is the flexibility with roster moves. Due to the plethora of talent, the Bruins have accumulated over the last three years they’re in great position to make moves to improve the club today without affecting the future.

Boston has been involved in various trade rumors, but no name has been as prominent than Matt Duchene, especially in recent weeks. The speculation has stirred up mixed reactions from the natives as Brandon Carlo’s name does not seem to go away in trade discussions. Now, I may have started a war on Twitter earlier in the week when I suggested (pretty adamant, actually) I’d trade Carlo for Duchene, no question. But Before you reach for the Louisville Slugger let me make the case…

Defensemen are notorious for their slow development, and many don’t mature until they’re 25-26 years old. There are very few players at the position that can step right in and make an impact at such a young age — “But Carlo had a great year Jesse”… Yes and no. Carlo had a tremendous start to his rookie year; through the first 30 games, the young defensemen logged an average of 22:22 TOI with a respectable plus/- of 7. Clearly, a pleasant surprise for many as he was projected to start the year in the AHL while Rob O’Gara had the inside track early in camp. However, things began to go south, and as many young players do, Carlo seemed to hit a bit of a rookie wall. For the remaining 52 games, Carlo’s ice time took a big hit due to poor play, coming down from 22:22 TOI to 19:50 TOI. As a result, Zdeno Chara’s workload increased dramatically. Chara averaged more than 24-TOI 15 different times during this stretch including 7 games of 26-TOI or more. Not ideal for a 40-year old defenseman whose season-long endurance was tested down the stretch as the Bruins looked to get back into the playoffs.

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( Above Photo Credit: nhl .com )

It was evident Chara’s increased ice time illustrated some of Carlo’s flaws and deficiencies. This is not a knock on Carlo, he’s 20 years old, playing in the NHL in one of the biggest hockey markets. However, it does remind all of us that playing defensemen in the NHL is not a small task and it takes time to develop the vision, hockey sense and positioning at this level. So how long is too long? 3, 4, 5 years? Long enough to eat through the precious prime years of Bruins core players such as Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and Tuukka Rask. Is missing this 5-year (or so) window, with this current core group, worth the price of developing defensemen who some scouts believe won’t be more than a top-4? And who some believe there’s not a big gap between him and Rob O’Gara talent wise? To me, it’s an easy ‘NO.’

The Bruins are in a position of strength despite their lack of RHD in the system. I get the argument against trading Brandon Carlo, but Matt Duchene is a unique player with unique skills, same cannot be said for Carlo. The addition of Duchene to this current roster (assuming Bjork and McAvoy excel) will make Boston’s top-6 as dangerous as there is in the NHL. The speed, the vision, the creativity are all attributes Sweeney is looking for in a player. What else helps? Duchene’s versatility and ability to play the wing — And oh, by the way, he’s left-handed, a need given the lack of lefty-centermen on the Bruins as pointed out in a recent article by WEEI’s Ty Anderson. Despite being on horrendous Avalanche teams since starting his NHL career (except 2013-2014) Duchene has managed to average 22-goals and 53-points, including 17-goals and 43-points in just 47 games during the 2012-2013 season. His explosiveness allows him to separate himself from defenders in open ice and he’s able to make something out of a ‘nothing-play’ with his keen hockey sense. Duchene exhibits ‘game-breaking’ ability, an element the Bruins got a taste off this past season from David Pastrnak.

Players of Duchene’s caliber don’t become available often, and the Bruins have put themselves in a position to strike a deal for the former 2009 3rd-overall pick. One main fear of fans is the possibility of Carlo coming back to haunt the Bruins, developing into a top defender in the league. Valid concerns by passionate fans but highly unlikely if you consider a few things. The environment in Colorado is unstable, and the roster does not have the veteran presence to provide the support structure has currently been receiving in Boston, most importantly by Chara. In turn, his development trajectory would theoretically take a step back, suppressing his impact at the NHL level. Not saying Carlo won’t become a good player, I honestly believe he will, but his development in Boston is accelerated because he’s surrounded by the right situation from management all the way down to the players.

Oct 30, 2015; Raleigh, NC, USA; Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Duchene (9) looks on before the game against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Colorado Avalanche 3-2. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Another concern by the Boston faithful has been the cap situation and if the Bruins will have the flexibility to extend Duchene after his remaining two years are up. Making things a little more interesting are the contracts of both Charlie McAvoy and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson whose ELC’s would be expiring at the same time. If McAvoy is anything we saw during the playoffs he could command $5-$6.5mill/yr, creating a terrible situation for the Bruins…or would it?

According to capfriendly.com the Bruins currently have $12,975,655 in cap space. Assuming David Pastrnak’s deal is around $6mill/yr the Bruins will roughly have $7million remaining with 19 players signed. Of course, there is every intention from Don Sweeney to add a couple of bodies on short money which would most likely leave the Bruins with a projected cap space of $3-$4million. There’s still some flexibility there, and rumors continue to swirl on Boston trying to unload Matt Beleskey ($3.8mill) and Adam McQuaid ($2.75mill) contracts to create even more breathing room.

Looking further down the road, the Bruins are projected to have $22mill in cap space with 13 players signed in 2018-2019. It may not sound like a lot considering you need to round out the roster but keep in mind most of the players, again assuming the kids pan out, will be on their entry-level deals. A way to provide relief would be signing players to bridge deals which will bite the Bruins some time to re-evaluate the roster and create space as needed. All in all, I am not as concerned as most, but I also admit I am naturally optimistic about things in general.

Don Sweeney and the philosophies in which the Bruins are operating in have suckered me in. I trust and believe in the process and if that means giving up Brandon Carlo for Matt Duchene, then heck, I am all in…in fact, I’m doubling down…

 

 

Signing Off,

Jesse “The Dominican PuckHead”

Stay Inspired…

Smoke Clouds Develop Ahead of Bruins Free Agency

By Jesse Jiminez                     Follow Me On Twitter @Jessemedscience 

It’s sure getting a little dark out there, and I don’t mean the unpredictable New England weather. Rather, the calm before the storm that quietly sits above our heads just mere hours ahead of free agency. We’ve already seen a lightning strike with the Chicago Blackhawks trading Artemi Panarin to the Columbus Blue Jackets, re-acquiring Brandon Saad in the process. We also saw Pittsburgh make an interesting move by nabbing Ryan Reaves from the St. Louis Blues, who will undoubtedly serve as Sydney Crosby’s new body guard for the foreseeable future.

This year’s free agency class, as a whole, is not very strong  — Perhaps pushing clubs to fill their respective holes via trade. This doesn’t mean there are not intriguing names on the FA market. Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Kevin Shattenkirk headline the list of available targets. While Karl Alzner, Alexander Radulov, and Justin William provide viable plan ‘B’ options. Plenty of speculation has started to bubble on the surface of many rumors, many of them involving the Boston Bruins. NHL analyst Pierre McGuire recently told TSN radio in Canada that he feels Shattenkirk eventually ends up with the black and gold. “I think Boston…He’s a specialist player and his specialty is the powerplay, he’s really good at the powerplay.”

**I interrupt this blog post to bring you some NHL breaking news**

Various sources, including TSN’s Bob McKenzie, indicating Minnesota has traded Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville to Buffalo in exchange for Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, and a pick — 11:50am (6/30/2017)

**Now back to our original scheduled blog post, thanks for reading**

Another interesting scenario would be signing Joe Thornton to a short-term deal, perhaps bringing full circle what has turned out to be a tremendous statistical career. There are definitely miles on the tires but the 37-year old center has put up at least 50-pts each of the last four seasons and still possess one of the games most elite skill-sets. Of course, this would be contingent on Boston moving a body or two to offset the $7mill+ price tag Thornton’s camp would command. However, with David Pastrnak’s extension still in the works Don Sweeney would have to put his Harvard degree to good use and make things work financially.

According to Sweeney’s pre-FA presser this morning it does not sound like he would be too active on the market — Although he did state that he’s committed to icing a competitive team. Which begs the question, are the Bruins in a position to improve their hockey club via trade? With a plethora of talent in the system and some cap space to play with (roughly $14.5mill after Hayes buyout) Don Sweeney and company have ample options in regards to what type of moves they can make. Let’s not sugarcoat this, Bruins fans have been salivating for a blockbuster, and they’re well aware Boston is in a position to pull something off, something big.

Prominent names like Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, and Jonas Brodin continue to circle the halls of TD Garden. Rumors are quite speculative in nature, even fabricated, but there are also ones that tend to hang around just enough to add some dramatic effect and story lines. How the saying goes, “Where there’s smoke, there is fire, ” and when it comes to Duchene, Landeskog, and Brodin, here are a few embers giving fuel to the fumes. At this year’s trade deadline, there was a general feeling around the league that Joe Sakic and Don Sweeney were close on a deal for either Landeskog or Duchene — A package that would include young promising 20-yr old defensemen Brandon Carlo. There were mix reactions, depending who’d you asked. Some scouts feel Carlo is a future top-pair defensemen while others say he’s a top 3 at best with limited offensive upside. It was quite obvious how the Bruins felt at the time as a deal never materialized.

With an apparent need for a top-6 forward, would Sweeney and company re-consider trading Brandon Carlo if it meant getting back a young dynamic forward? For what its worth, the defensemen position is that hardest position in hockey to project as it takes time for players to adjust to the speed and how to read the game at a high level. Is it worth taking the chance with an established player, one that has had success? Would it be a gamble to give up a traditional stay-at-home defensemen who may have more tools in the box than initially projected? Time is ticking and there are decisions to be made with this group. There’s no doubt this Bruins team will be younger, faster, and more skilled come opening night — But whose names will we be hearing being called for the first game of the season four months from now…?

Signing off,

Jesse ” The Dominican PuckHead”

-Stay Inspired

Boston Bruins: Projecting The Kids

 

( Above Photo Credit:  NHL .com )

By: Jesse Jimenez                             Follow Me On Twitter @Jessemedscience

How many times over the last 2-3 years have we heard the terms “speed,” “youth,” and “skill” thrown around the NHL? The league is evolving at a rapid rate, and many teams have already started to adopt the new model. Enforcers seem to have been put on the “endangered” list, conceding to the less violent albeit a much more entertaining brand of hockey. The new style of play has no doubt benefited the league from a marketing and promotional perspective, attracting a diverse global audience. Boston, an original six team, and one of the NHL’s most prestigious organizations have already started putting its fingerprints on the new culture.

It’s no secret the Boston Bruins have one of the deepest prospect pools in the NHL and fans got a small taste of it this past season. Young 20-year-old defenseman Brandon Carlo exceeded expectations, making the team out of training camp and putting up a solid line of  6g-10a-16pts with a plus 9 rating while averaging just north of 20-mins TOI per game. University of Denver sophomore standout Danton Heinen had a cup of non-expresso coffee with the parent club before being sent down to Providence for some seasoning. Despite not registering a point in 8 games with the Bruins Heinen showed flashes of creativity, smarts, and essential tools that allowed him to capture 2015 NCHC Rookie of the year and 2016 NCHC best forward awards. After a dry spell for Providence Heinen really turned it on during the last quarter of the season and into the playoffs, leading the team in scoring with 18 points in 17 games including 9-goals. Youngsters such as Austin Czarnik, Peter Cehlarik, Sean Kuraly, Noel Acciari, Rob O’Gara, Anton Blidh and Matt Grzelcyk also got brief stints during the 2016-2017 campaign.

Ironically enough, we have not even touched on the top-tier prospects knocking on the door for the Bruins. Recently signed Notre Dame sophomore dynamo Anders Bjork tops the forward list with his dynamic skating, exceptional hockey sense, and world-class creativity. Bjork was named a finalist for the Hobey Baker this past year after posting 21g and 52-points in just 39 games for the Fighting Irish. Bjork may top the list for forwards due to his polished offensive game, but Zachary Senyshyn may have the purest natural ability of the crop. After registering back to back 40g+ seasons for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL Senyshyn is poised to make the best out of development camp after missing out last year due to mononucleosis — He saw limited time at the tail-end of the main camp in September. Then there’s Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, the Sweedish Bergeron as I like to call him. The Boston University product, whose game resembles the 4-time Selke award winner (not too shabby), may be the most rounded forward prospect and Boston’s top prospect at the center position. JFK possesses excellent hockey sense and vision and has a knack for potting big goals. His two-way game is polished and will translate to the NHL, making him an immediate contributor in all situations.

These are three excellent and exciting prospects, but none make you reach for the popcorn more than Charlie McAvoy will. Equipped with a 3-zone game, smooth skating, excellent vision, and a physical edge McAvoy may be the favorite for the Calder trophy this coming season. The former Boston University standout and 2017 WJC Gold Medalist took the NHL by storm as a 19-year old baby-faced rookie during the Stanley Cup playoffs. While the offensive numbers don’t jump off the page, 3 apples in 6 games, it was his matured play in all 3 zones that really captured the attention of fans, team executives, league analysts, and scouts. McAvoy averaged more than 25-min TOI per game — And was the go to quarterback for Boston’s first power-play unit. His ability to jump into the play, provide support for his forwards and transition defense to offense with a crisp first pass pretty much cemented how special and unique he is. McAvoy has generated lots of comparison to Los Angeles Kings stud defensemen Drew Doughty, sure Bruins fans weren’t too disappointed to hear that.

With an influx of young talent knocking on the door this year lets take a look at some lineup possibilities along with realistic expectations for each player.

Boston Bruins 2017-2018 Opening Day lineup:

Marchand-Bergeron-DeBrusk

Bjork-Krejci-Pastrnak

Heinen-JFK-Backes

Kuraly-Czarnik-Nash

Chara-Carlo

K.Miller-McAvoy

Krug-McQuaid

Projections

Jake DeBrusk — 18g 24a

Anders Bjork — 20g 28a

Danton Heinen — 16g 25a

JFK — 13g 30a

Charlie McAvoy — 10g 32a

Of course, there are plenty of moving parts and variables in play. Free agency is around the corner, and the Bruins remain very active in the trade market as they continue their search for a top-4 left shooting defensemen and top-6 forward. That being said, the Toronto Maple Leafs proved that young, inexperienced players can compete in the NHL. With a well-rounded veteran core of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, David Backes, Tuukka Rask and Zdeno Chara the Bruins find themselves in an excellent position to integrate their young talent.

Other Prospects that could push for spots:

Jakub Zboril

Jeremy Lauzon

Jesse Gabrielle

Agree? Don’t agree? I’d love to hear your thoughts as well. Who do you have making the Bruins this year?

Signing off,

Jesse “The Dominican PuckHead”

-Stay Inspired