Bruin’s Offseason: All Quiet On The Eastern Front (2 of 2)

Bruins D

(Photo Credit: Matt Stone/ Boston Herald)

By Joe Chrzanowski  |  Follow Me on Twitter @jchrz19

In part 1 of this two part series, I discussed the open positions among the Bruin’s forward group, the options, and how those spots were likely to be filled. Now we are going to look at the Boston defense, which many believe is the strength of the team, based on the depth they possess on the back end from top to bottom, positions 1-8.

If we discussed this back in July, the conversation would not have been a very long one. Five of the starting six positions appeared to be relatively set with regulars from the 2018-19 team that lost in the Cup Finals. Chara, McAvoy, Krug, Carlo, and Grzelcyk would have been pretty much unanimous choices, with Connor Clifton and Kevan Miller the likely candidates to be battling it out for the last spot on the right side of the 3rd pair. Steven Kampfer signed a two-year extension worth $800,000 per season and would appear to be a lock for the 8th/Press Box spot. John Moore was the other guy in the mix, but will likely start the season on LTIR after playing through a broken humerus in the playoffs. There also would have been some calls for Vaakaneinen, Lauzon, and Zboril, the Providence defensemen that are on the cusp and next in line for a shot.

Fast forward about eight weeks and that conversation has become a lot more complicated and the starters on defense a lot less certain. The first problem (and the most serious) is obvious and has been a talking point since the regular season. Both Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo (the Bruin’s first and second pair right D-men) are restricted, free agents. As of today, neither has agreed to terms on an extension with the team. The second issue is that Kevan Miller is reportedly not skating yet after his knee injury and subsequent setback during the playoffs. Due to Miller’s tendency to get hurt every season, I don’t think many thought he would last all year unscathed. However, if he is unable to start the season the Bruin’s blue line depth will take yet another hit. If he can be ready for October, he could provide valuable insurance on the right side of the Boston defense.

Let’s take a look at the cast of characters that should make up the Bruin’s back end and the ones that may have to fill in for either injury or hold outs.

At the top of the list of any discussion regarding Boston’s defense is the 42-year-old Slovakian behemoth, Zdeno Chara. The captain signed a one-year deal with the team worth $2 million for 2019-20, but the Cap hit could rise to $3.75 million if he meets his performance bonuses. Chara is no longer the guy that could once log 26 minutes a night for 82 games against the Bruin’s toughest opposition, but he still can do it for shorter periods of time and has a key role on the team, both on and off the ice. I would love to see Boston cut down on Chara’s minutes even more than they have in recent years, and use him as a 3rd pair PK specialist. I think this would allow him to play at a higher level and save him for a playoff run. However, given the current makeup of the left side of the defense, I’m not sure that will be possible? With Moore injured, Chara is the only left defenseman that is capable of playing a defensive shutdown role.

That brings us to 21-year-old, Long Island-born Charlie McAvoy. In most circles, McAvoy is considered the next all-star D in what has been a long line of them in Boston. In any other offseason, we would be discussing the positive impact that he would be having on the team come October, but not this year. Right now, there is a hefty list of impact restricted free agents that have yet to agree to terms with their respective teams. Unfortunately, McAvoy, who averaged 22:10 TOI and totaled 7g/21a in only 54 games last season is one of the big names on the list. The point of this article is not to debate McAvoy’s salary, but it would probably be safe to assume he will get in the $6-7 million range easily. The rumor is that McAvoy turned down a 7-8 year deal in the $7.5 million range. If that is the case, I can only assume he wants to go the route that Auston Matthews did and sign a five-year deal that will make him an unrestricted free agent at the age of 26.

The next Bruin’s defenseman is a lightning rod among fans and media alike. There may not be another player on the team (well, maybe Tuukka) that inspires more debate and venom than Torey Krug. People are divided about how much he’s worth, how good he is offensively, how much of a liability he is in his own zone…even who is taller, he or Brad Marchand. No matter what your feelings on Krug (I am a fan personally), even his harshest critics have to admit he’s an offensive catalyst on both the power play and at even strength. He stretches the opposing defense like no other defenseman in the organization, whether it be by a long outlet pass or bringing the puck up the ice himself.

Since Krug signed a four-year deal worth $21 million in 2016-17 ($5.25m per) he is 5th in the NHL for defensemen with 163 regular-season points in 221 games. To say he is a bargain on his current deal would be an understatement. The question people have now is not about this deal, it’s about his next one. How much money and term should the Bruins invest in a 29-year-old that many view as a one-dimensional player? That’s the $6-8 million question. I ask myself that same question, but Krug went a long way towards convincing me with his performance (both offensively and defensively) in last season’s playoffs. In my opinion, he was hands down the Bruin’s best blue-liner in the postseason, and his defense was above average on the whole. He’s a key player any year, but if Boston has holdouts, he will play an even bigger role.

The second potential holdout and another key player on the defense is Brandon Carlo. The soon to be 23-year-old had his best year as a pro last season, building on what fans saw in 2017-18. While his point totals didn’t necessarily reflect it, Carlo took a big leap forward. His TOI was up about 90 seconds per game (20:55), and his shots, hits, and plus/minus were all career highs for a season. Unfortunately for Carlo, while there is some potential there, he has shown very little in the way of offense since making the Bruins as a rookie three years ago. In the NHL, there are very few, if any, defensive-minded defensemen that get paid like their puck-moving brethren. If I had to compare him to a recent player and his contract, the closest I can come is probably the Avs Nikita Zadorov, who signed a one-year deal with Colorado in July for $3.2 million. Zadorov is roughly 18 months older than Carlo, but he plays a similar defensive style. He does produce offensively at a better clip with 62 points in 292 NHL games, versus 32 points in 230 games for Carlo. To be honest, I am not quite sure what the hold up is here? I expected this contract to be the far easier of the two Bruin RFA defensemen without deals, but that has not been the case.

Grizz Photo by Claus Andersen - Getty Images

(Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

That brings us to the Bruins third pair, which will most likely be made up of two of these three: Matt Grzelcyk, Connor Clifton, or Kevan Miller (health permitting). For the sake of discussion, I am going to assume that Miller will not be able to start the season. If he can, to me he is the favorite for the RD position on the third pair, despite a strong showing by Clifton last season in his absence. Barring injury, I don’t see how Grzelcyk is not your starter on the left side. While his advanced stats were not as impressive in 2018-19 as they were in his rookie campaign, I would chalk that up to the fact that his playing time rose almost 2:30 minutes per game, he faced stiffer competition due to injuries, and his offensive zone starts were down nearly five percent. Despite those obstacles, Grelcyk finished the regular season a “plus nine” and up three points from the year before. In my opinion, he is the perfect puck-moving third pair in today’s NHL. While he does lack size, he has a good stick and sound positioning in the defensive zone. His contract ($1.4 million) is also a bargain by today’s standards. The question in a lot of people’s minds is whether or not Grizz can jump into a Top Four role with the team if they are forced to move Krug. I root for guys like Grzelcyk, but I’m not sure he’s up to that task? Despite the size similarities, he and Krug have different games. Grizz is the better skater and better defensively, but he lacks Krug’s cannon shot and end to end passing ability. I would prefer the Bruins keep number 48 right where he is, but Cap concerns may force their hands?

On the right side (assuming Miller can’t go), the likely candidate will be Connor Clifton. The 24-year-old New Jersey native played his college hockey at Quinnipiac College in the ECAC. He was a 5th round pick of the Arizona Coyotes in 2013 but was unable to come to an agreement with the Yotes after graduating and ended up signing a deal with the Providence Bruins in 2017. He played 54 games for the Baby B’s that year and impressed the front office enough to get a two-year NHL deal. He started 2018-19 in the AHL, but was called up in November and again in the Spring because of the plethora of injuries on the B’s back end. He endeared himself to the fan base by playing what Coach Bruce Cassidy called “Cliffy Hockey,” a blend of fearless physical play along with joining the rush that was exciting but at times stressful.  Stressful or not, Don Sweeney liked what he saw enough to sign Clifton to a three-year deal worth $1 million per season that begins next year when his current contract expires. Despite all that, I have to admit that I am not 100% sold on him. I am hoping that one of the three or four prospects I am about to discuss can steal one of those third pair spots, and Clifton becomes the 7th d-man eventually.

Last year when injuries ravaged the B’s defensive corps, three rookies other than Clifton also made their NHL debuts. Urho Vaakaneinen, Jeremy Lauzon, and Jakub Zboril all donned the Black and Gold for the first time to varying degrees of success. Zboril (2015) and Vaakaneinen (2017) are both former first-round picks that have pretty impressive draft pedigrees, but it was the lower-drafted Lauzon (52nd overall in 2015) that made the more lasting impression. The big, rangy left-handed product out of Rouyn-Noranda in the QMJHL is a good skater, but not quite as smooth as his Euro-counterparts. He’s a little more physical and played more of a “stay at home” game than I expected, given his production in Juniors. I’m sure that some of that was due to nerves and wanting to take care of his own end before joining the rush as a rookie. He had only one goal in his first 16 NHL games but looked increasingly comfortable as the games mounted. If McAvoy and Carlo do hold out, Lauzon would be my choice to step in, although management might prefer the more experienced Steven Kampfer, at least to start.

Vaakaneinen and Zboril would appear to be the next ones in line, but like Lauzon, both are left-handed shots. Vaakaneinen, a 20-year-old Finn, did spend some time playing the right side for SaiPa in the Liiga (the top tier men’s league in Finland), which may give him an advantage. It’s easy to see why the B’s European scouts liked Vaakaneinen, as he combines good size (6’1″, 190 pounds) and excellent skating ability in one package. Early viewings suggest that right now “Vaak” is more comfortable playing a defensive game. I think that his ability to get up and down the ice will eventually lead to more offense in his game. I thought he looked pretty good in his debut, but unfortunately, a nasty elbow by the Ottawa Senators Mark Borowiecki in Vaakaneinen’s second game resulted in a concussion that sidelined him for months.

Zboril was the 14th overall pick in the now infamous 2015 draft for the Bruins, where they passed on players like Matt Barzal, Kyle Connor, and Thomas Chabot. The B’s were starved for defense prospects at the time, and Zboril was given a mid-first grade by most scouts, so I have no issue with the pick. I am a fan of Zboril’s but am a little perplexed by him. He is as smooth a skater as I have ever seen, making it seem effortless as he makes his way around the ice. He displayed some offensive ability for Saint John’s of the QMJHL, and I have also seen him show bit of a mean streak. When you add it all up, he should already be playing in the NHL. It appears that inconsistency is holding him back? This is a big year for Zboril, he’s on the last year of his ELC, and the Bruins have several other young defensemen vying for spots. If he doesn’t “put it together” this season, I could see him playing elsewhere going forward.

The two defensemen at the bottom of the Bruin prospect food chain (and this is not an insult in any way) came to the organization in completely different ways. Cooper Zech was an undrafted free agent that signed with Providence after an impressive freshman year at Ferris State. Axel Andersson was a 2nd round pick by Boston in the 2018 draft. He played a full season for Södertälje in the Allsvenskan (Sweden’s second-tier pro league) at age 18, which is impressive in its own way as well.

Despite not being drafted, the left-handed Zech (5’9”, 170 pounds) has been busy piling up the awards the last couple of years. In 2017-18 while playing for the Wenatchee Wild (BCHL), he was named First Team All-Star, Top Defenseman, and won a championship. Last year at Ferris State (WCHA) he took home Rookie of the Year honors and was again named First Team All-Star. He left Ferris State and signed with Providence, acquitting himself quite well in twelve regular-season games (0g/4a) and four playoff games (2g/0a). There will be the obvious size comparisons to Krug and Grzelcyk, and his game is similar. He’s a smallish puck mover and power play guy that will put up the points but needs some work defensively against pro-caliber players. The B’s have an excellent recent history with free agent NCAA defensemen (Miller, Krug, Clifton) and they are hoping Zech is the next diamond in the rough.

Last, but not least, we have 2018 second-round pick (57th overall), Axel Andersson. The Bruins didn’t have a first-round pick in that draft, and I remember saying, “Axel who?”, when the pick was announced, but since then, I have become a fan. Last year at the Bruins Development Camp he was one of the best players there when I saw him. He followed that up with a very good preseason, getting first pair minutes with Chara. The 6 foot, 180 pound native of Järna, Sweden is bigger than I thought, but still an excellent skater and puck mover. It appears those two skills have become prerequisites for nearly all of the Bruins recent draft picks on defense. The organization clearly believes that is the direction the NHL is headed.

There seems to be some question about where “AA” will be playing in 2019-20? He is eligible to suit up for Providence, but he was also drafted by Moncton (QMJHL) 30th overall in the 2019 CHL Import Draft. Recent news seems to indicate that he will play there and get big minutes for a good Junior team. The only way this may change is if McAvoy and Carlo hold out, which would likely open Top Four spots in Providence. I don’t think the Bruins can go wrong either way, as long as Andersson is getting the time on ice he needs to progress. The situation on the Bruins blueline is a fluid one at the moment, but if everyone is signed, I see the defense pairs like this to start the season:

Chara-McAvoy

Krug-Carlo

Grzelcyk-Miller/Clifton

Kampfer

That alignment would give the Bruins a puck-mover and a strong defensive presence on each pair, which I believe is the proper way to go. In the past few years, the Bruins have been bitten hard by the injury bug on the back end. If everyone is in camp, the team should be well-positioned to handle the inevitable injuries. If there are holdouts, the organization’s depth on defense could be tested right out of the gate.

Check out the Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 142 that we recorded on 8-25-19 below! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

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Providence Bruins Player Profile: Cooper Zech

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(Photo Courtesy of Providence Bruins Flickr)

By: Tim Richardson | Follow Me On Twitter @TimARichardson

Cooper Zech is a name you might not recognize, and that’s because he is someone who wasn’t drafted by the Boston Bruins. In fact, he was not drafted at all. In March of 2019, the young defenseman signed a two-year AHL contract with the Providence Bruins after finishing his freshman season at Ferris State University. Zech is an undersized puck-moving defenseman from Michigan. The Bruins’ recent history with a player that fits that same mold is pretty good. So, let’s get into what Zech did before coming to Providence, and what the Bruins saw in him.

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(Photo Courtesy of Odessa Jackalopes)

Cooper Zech spent the 2015-16 season with the Odessa Jackalopes of the North American Hockey League (NAHL).  In 51 games with the Jackalopes Zech netted eight goals while dishing out 17 assists for 25 total points and plus/minus rating of 0. It was not a bad first season in the NAHL where Zech’s offensive ability was really on display. The Michigan native would go on to earn NAHL All-Rookie First Team and NAHL All-South Division Rookie Team honors.

The young defenseman would go on to play the 2016-17 season with the Odessa again, and in 41 games found the back of the net three times and dished out 29 assists for 32 total points and a plus/minus rating of +9. Zech would also play a part of that season in the United States Hockey League (USHL) with Muskegon Lumberjacks. In 25 games with the Lumberjacks Zech would dish out four assists for four total points, and plus/minus rating of -6. It was another solid year of development for Cooper.

Zech would go on to play the 2017-18 season in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) with the Wenatchee Wild, and he would have a stellar season. In 58 games with the Wild, the Michigan native would net 11 goals and dish out 58 assists for 69 total points. He would also play in 20 playoff games for Wenatchee netting four goals and dishing out 19 assists for 23 total points en route to leading the Wild to the BCHL Championship. Cooper would also be a BCHL First Team All-Star, he would also lead the league in assists, lead defenseman in assists, lead defenseman in points, and be named the league’s top defenseman. Zech really shined during this season and was able to prove what he could do.

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(Photo Courtesy of Western Collegiate Hockey Association)

Cooper Zech would spend the 2018-19 season playing in his freshman season at Ferris State University for the Bulldogs. The young defenseman would make his presence felt early and often. In 36 games with the Bulldogs, he would net eight goals and dish out 20 assists for 28 total points and a plus/minus of +3. It would be the first time since 1987-88 a freshman led Ferris State in scoring. The excellent year earned Zech some accolades. He would win the NCAA Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) Rookie of the Year and would also be named to the NCAA WCHA First All-Star Team and NCAA WCHA All-Rookie Team.

After his collegiate season ended, Zech had multiple offers from AHL teams. Ultimately he would choose to sign with Providence and was able to get into 12 regular-season games for the AHL club in 2018-19. In those 12 games, he would dish out four assists for four total points while playing very good defense. The Michigan native would also play in the team’s four playoff games netting two goals for two total points. In his short time playing for Providence, Zech looked really good on the ice. He looked comfortable in each zone, and he looked comfortable both with and without the puck. The game didn’t seem too fast for him, which can happen for players coming into the AHL for the first time.

Going into this season, I believe we can expect big things from Cooper Zech. Despite only being 5’9, he plays without fear. He is quick on his feet and can play with or without the puck, though he’s more comfortable with it. Not only do I think he can be a very good hockey player, but the Bruins have also had success signing guys to AHL deals and developing them. Connor Clifton is a good example of that just this past season. Zech’s game is a lot like Torey Krug, and I believe he will be a player to watch this season in Providence. To me, he’s one of their most intriguing players heading into 2019-2020. As we get closer to the start of the season, remember the name, Cooper Zech. You could be hearing it a lot. As always, if you have questions or comments, feel free to send them to me on Twitter. I hope everyone is enjoying their summer and Go, Bs, Go!

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Catching Up With The Bruins: Summer Edition

Related image(Photo Credit: NBC Sports)

By: Liz Rizzo | Follow me on Twitter: @pastagrl88

In what seems like a lifetime ago since the boys in Black and Gold skated in front of the Garden faithful, we’ve reached the very dreaded summer lull. With the NHL Free Agency gone and some new signings coming the way of Sweeney and Co., there have been other little sneaky things happening for the team. If you missed it, fret not as we have a quick low down of all things Bruins:

SOME FAMILIAR FACES

With fresh new faces joining the ranks of the prestigious club, the team will be welcoming back a few that have made their mark during the Bruins run for the 2019 Stanley Cup. This past June, Steven Kampfer agreed upon a two-year contract for $1.6 million dollars and will play through the 2020-2021 season. The blue-liner was brought in by the Bruins last September in exchange for defenseman Adam McQuaid. And when Boston was down a few defenseman, Kampfer was more than happy to step in and even more grateful to continue to don Boston’s jersey:

“It’s an honor and privilege to wear the Spoked-B. I’m really excited to be here and get this journey started again.”

Related image(Photo Credits: NBC Sports)

With the Playoffs on the horizon for the Bruins, injury once again plagued the team. Enter Connor Clifton, who was playing his second season down in Providence. After a quick stint in December when Clifton played for nine games with Boston, he was recalled once again and never returned to Providence, earning a spot on the NHL roster during the post-season run. The Quinnipiac alum played 18 games for the Bruins during the Playoffs were he netted two goals and three assists. His efforts were rewarded as both parties agreed to a contract extension of three years for $3 million.

Danton Heinen Photos - 28 of 78(Photo Credits: Steven Ryan/Getty Images North America)

Bruins forward Danton Heinen recently re-signed with the Boston Bruins for two more years with an annual cap of $2.8 million. The chippy forward had two goals and six assists during the Playoffs. Say what you want about Heino, but his ability to play both wings saw him garner a significant amount of time on ice while being shuffled amongst the top three lines. While not flashy, he certainly was dependable and played a key role alongside Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johannson.

O’ CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN!

There’s a lot to say about the indomitable force that is Zdeno Chara who has been enjoying summer back in Slovakia with his family. And at age 42, he is now the oldest active player in the NHL and is there is no slowing down his regimen.  Recently Chara has once again been named Slovakia’s Best Hockey Player, making it the sixth time he has won.  Also in the mix was Jaroslav Halak, who won Slovakia’s Best Goaltender.  Both players were not able to make the awards and had their respected family members there to receive the honors. Halak had a tremendous year with the Bruins, ending the season with a .922 save percentage and a goals-against-average of 2.34 in 40 games.

Image result for zdeno chara slovakia award(Photo Credits: Boston Bruins/NHL.com)

ON THE MEND

After the loss of the Stanley Cup Finals in Game Seven, many of the Bruins were revealed to have suffered many injuries. As those players take time off to heal from those ailments, their head coach revealed that he too needed this summer to heal up. Cassidy suffered a recurring injury that stemmed from a decades-long problem: a torn ACL that was never dealt with properly. After being selected in the first round by the Chicago Blackhawks in 1983, Cassidy injured his knee after playing ball hockey. Team doctors went against surgery opting instead for rehab, a decision that affected the young 18-year-old’s career.

Image result for bruce cassidy surgery(Photo Credits: Boston Informer)

After dealing with a recent re-injury to his knee during the Playoffs, the swelling proved too much and after a few aspirations (fluid being drained), the decision was made to have surgery:

“All of a sudden it just sort of gave out, maybe I lost my footing or whatever…I don’t know if it was in the gym, maybe, but it got puffy all of a sudden. They kept draining it through the Carolina series and some of the St. Louis series. I got X-rays and they said ‘you have to get it done.’

It is also worth noting that after many years of ligament damage from not having his ACL reconstructed, this led to Cassidy having a total hip replacement. Luckily the timing was just right and the Bruins coach continues to rehab the knee and regain his range of motion and mobility prior to the start of the new season.

THIS, THAT AND OTHER BITS

It was just recently announced that the Boston Bruins organization has hired former player Chris Kelly as Player Development Coordinator and Andrew Dickson as an Amateur Scout. Kelly is a former member of the 2011 Bruins team that won the Stanley Cup.

Image result for former bruin chris kelly(Photo Credits: Boston Bruins/NHL.com)

Some members of the Boston Bruins will once again be traveling to Beijing as the sport of Hockey continues to grow globally. Last year many of the veterans played and participated in youth clinics in China. This year, Providence players Anton Blidh and Wiley Sherman will be heading up the clinics. The Bruins have had very strong ties with China since partnering up with O.R.G. Packaging, becoming the first NHL franchise team to do so.

STAYING COOL

With the blistering heat here to stay for the next few months,  things tend to be quiet on the hockey front, but luckily fans have been treated to some online banter. And in case you were wondering if the team lost any of its “family” connection, you’ll be happy to know that the camaraderie has not faltered.  Most recently Bruins Twitter debuted a special installment of a segment called “Staying Connected” featuring Sean Kuraly video chatting with Jake DeBrusk (and with some added insight from Torey Krug). Enjoy below and hockey can’t come soon enough!

 

Latzanakis: Ideal Bruins Lineup on Opening Night: Version One

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( Photo Credit: The Hockey News )

By: Yanni Latzanakis  |  Follow Me On Twitter @yanlatz

First Line: Marchand – Bergeron – Heinen

Ever since Marchand and Bergeron began playing together, they have been inseparable. The duo has played together on the same line five on five, on the powerplay, and even the penalty kill and have shined together. While at times the line with Pastrnak on the right side was arguably the best line in the league, they also struggled to put the puck in the net. Also, the top line had so much pressure on them to score that they were gripping their sticks a little to tight and not producing like they can. I would like to see some balance in the Bruins lineup by moving Pastrnak to the second line and Danton Heinen getting a shot on the first line. When Pastrnak went down with a thumb injury and Heinen filled in on the right-wing, the line continued dominance without missing a beat and it was Heinen’s best stretch of hockey last season. When playing with Bergeron and Marchand, they produced 11 goals and gave up four against. Heinen is becoming a skilled two-way forward before our eyes and his development can take off if he plays with Marchand and Bergeron in the 2019-2020 season.

 

Second Line: DeBrusk – Krejci – Pastrnak

The second line has been a mystery, especially at the right-wing position all of last season and this offseason. With players like David Backes, Karson Kuhlman, David Pastrnak, Danton Heinen, and Peter Cehlarik just some of the right-wingers who were tried on Krejci’s right for Bruce Cassidy last year. My ideal lineup would include Pastrnak on the right side of Krejci. The two countrymen have been shown to have chemistry in the past and the balance throughout the lineup would be felt quickly, especially if that second line can produce goals at even strength.

 

Third Line: Bjork – Coyle – Ritchie

Charlie Coyle was a hometown playoff hero for the Bruins putting up nine goals and seven assists for 16 points in 24 playoff games this past spring. He built great chemistry with winger’s Marcus Johansson, who left as an unrestricted free agent and signed with division rival Buffalo Sabres, and Danton Heinen. The third line center position was in question all season until GM of the Year Don Sweeney made the deal for third-line center depth in Coyle. If Anders Bjork can make a comeback after a shoulder injury that required surgery and ended his whole 2018-2019 campaign he can add some spark on the third line. Bjork played 30 regular-season games in 2017-2018 for the Bruins scoring four goals and eight assists while appearing in 20 games in 2018-2019 posting a goal and two helpers. Bjork has always been looked at as a skilled prospect and if he can stay healthy, he might be able to provide some offense with Charlie Coyle and new free agent signing Brett Ritchie. Brett Ritchie played 53 games last season with the Dallas Stars and racked up four goals and two assists. Ritchie has an empty score sheet in three career playoff games. The Orangeville, Ontario native signed a one-year $1 million contract on July first and we will have to see how he fits in the Bruins lineup this upcoming season.

 

Fourth Line: Wagner – Kuraly – Nordstrom

With the departure of Noel Acciari to the Florida Panthers, the Bruins lost some grit and depth for their fourth line. However, they still have Chris Wagner, Sean Kuraly, and Joakim Nordstrom as an ideal checking line. Wagner, the Walpole, MA native, won the Seventh Player award as the player who went above and beyond expectations last season. Kuraly and Nordstrom also had strong years as depth, physical, and reliable players for Bruce Cassidy’s B’s. For the fourth line, I would not tinker much with these three for opening night.

Extra Forwards: David Backes, Par Lindholm, Karson Kuhlman

Defense:

Chara – McAvoy

Krug – Carlo

Grzelcyk – Moore

Extra Defense: Connor Clifton, Kevan Miller, Steven Kampfer, Urho Vaakanainen

The defense was strong this past season as well as into the playoffs and it is safe to say the Bruins have plenty of depth on the back end. Assuming Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy are signed to contracts before opening night, this is how I would line it up on the back end for the Black ‘N Gold. Moore did not have the strongest start to his campaign with the Bruins but towards the end of the season and in the playoffs, particularly the Stanley Cup Finals, Moore showed off his smooth skating and hockey IQ. With either Moor or Clifton in the last defense position, there is no doubt the Bruins have all bases covered on the back end.

Goaltenders: Tuukka Rask, Jaroslav Halak

As the offseason is flying by, it will be interesting to see if the Bruins make any trades or moves to their roster as they gear up for hopefully another Stanley Cup run next Spring.

Stay tuned to blackngoldhockey.com for more analysis and breaking news from our team!

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Report: Bruins Add RW Ritchie For Depth

Image result for brett ritchie nhl(Photo Credit: NHL.com)

By: Evan Michael | Follow me on Twitter @00EvanMichael

The Boston Bruins reportedly have added some grit, depth & potential goal scoring to their bottom six forward group.

According to reports from the Stars camp and TVA sports up in Canada, the Bruins wrestled rough Right Wing Brett Ritchie away from Dallas — and at good value.

 

The early Twitter returns are saying Ritchie will not only be a solid replacement for the recently departed Noel Acciari, but also brings an “intriguing skill set” that includes the major ability to… well… earn majors (but in that Big Bad Bruins way as seen above).

As the above tweet says, this could be a “smart move” by Bruins GM Don Sweeney, especially considering the B’s have always liked their 4th line wingers to have a little pugilistic pluck & puck personality.  It also comes on the heels of another solid signing — the locking up of Connor “Cliffy Hockey” Clifton for four more years — and at that always affordable in today’s NHL $1M AAV.

Make sure to follow the Black N’ Gold Hockey team for more Bruins & NHL Free Agency updates in the days ahead. And of course be sure to listen to and support our podcast below:

Check out last weeks Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 133 below!

Report: Bruins Sign Connor Clifton To Contract Extension

NHL: Boston Bruins at Toronto Maple Leafs

Photo Courtesy Of WEEI Radio

By: Garrett Haydon | Follow Me On Twitter @thesportsguy97

Prior to the start of free agency on Monday afternoon, it was reported that the Bruins had signed Connor Clifton to a three-year extension worth three million dollars total. The young defenseman had a year left on his current contract worth $725,000 for next season.

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Clifton appeared in 19 regular season games for the Bruins this past season, totaling an assist. He also skated in 18 playoff games during the B’s Stanley Cup run, scoring a pair of goals and adding three assists for five points. Clifton also appeared in 53 games for Providence this past season, posting six goals and 21 assists for 27 points. Clifton also skated for Providence last season, posting four goals and nine assists for 13 points in 54 games.

The Long Branch, New Jersey native was originally selected in the fifth round (133rd overall) of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft by the Arizona Coyotes. Clifton signed with the Bruins last May after completing his senior season at Quinnipiac University. Clifton played four seasons for the Bobcats, posting totals of 19 goals and 37 assists for 56 points in 156 career games. Clifton should see a larger role this season considering how well he performed during the postseason. With this signing it certain seems as though we could see some movement on the Bruins blue line.

How College Hockey Has Impacted The Boston Bruins Roster

( Photo Credit: Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images )

By: Lucas Pearson  |  Follow Me On Twitter @lucaspearson_

College hockey just continues to grow and grow. Not only the popularity, but the quality of play has been incredible as of late, and it’s really starting to show with more and more NCAA players entering the NHL. In 2003, the NHL was made up of 21% NCAA alumni. That number has risen considerably since then, reaching 33% this season.

As a Bruins fan, the rise of the NCAA is incredibly evident when looking through this Bruins team. 12 out of 22 skaters for the Bruins have come out of college and played a game for the Bruins in these playoffs.

( Photo Credit: Jim Pierce )

The BU Boys

Charlie Mcavoy, Matt Grzelcyk, and Charlie Coyle all played their college hockey at Boston University. While Grzelcyk was just a year away from playing with Coyle, he was able to pair with Mcavoy on BU’s top defensive pair when he was captain of the team in 2015, combining for 48 points and a +27 rating. While the two aren’t a pair anymore, they are still on the second powerplay unit, and it seems their chemistry hasn’t skipped a beat with each having two PP goals apiece to go along with nine combined assists. We all know

The Minnesotaians

The Bruins have a pair of players from Minnesota that played hockey in their home state in David Backes and Karson Kuhlman. The veteran Backes played three seasons at Minnesota State University, averaging above a point per game in all but one year (where he has 37 points in 39 games) and just as many other players you will see on this team, was team captain for his final year there. Moving on to the youngster in Kuhlman, he played four seasons at the rival Minnesota Duluth, captaining the team in his final year while leading the team to a national championship.

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( Photo Credit: Jack Fredricks )

The Bottom Six

The Bruins bottom six consists of four products of NCAA (including Coyle) and a healthy Chris Wagner would make that five. Danton Heinen is one of a handful of active NHL players that played for the University of Denver, where he was electric, averaging over a point per game in the two seasons he played there. That success has carried over to the NHL as we’ve seen Heinen pair up with Coyle and Marcus Johansson to form the best third line we’ve seen in years.

Sean Kuraly spent four years at Miami University (Ohio), right near where he grew up in Dublin, Ohio. The former captain at Miami has made a name for himself as a clutch performer throughout the three playoffs he’s been a part of. Another member of the 4th line, Noel Acciari spent four seasons at Providence College and served as the captain for a season just as Kuraly had. The hard-nosed Rhode Island native has made a name for himself these past few years as a dependable 4th liner. The last member of the former WAK 4th line, Chris Wagner, spent his college days at Colgate University, playing two seasons in upstate New York. He had an incredible second season for Colgate, scoring 17 goals with 51 points in just 38 games played for the club.

March 19, 2016: Quinnipiac Bobcats defenseman Connor Clifton (4) skates with the puck as Harvard Crimson forward Brayden Jaw (10) tries to defend during 2016 ECAC Tournament Championship game between Harvard University and Quinnipiac University at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, NY. (John Crouch/J. Alexander Imaging)

( Photo Credits: John Crouch/J. Alexander Imaging )

The Back End

The Bruins starting six (with a healthy Matt Grzelcyk) consists of four guys that played hockey in college. Torey Krug spent three years in his home state of Michigan at Michigan State University, captaining the team for two of the three. Steven Kampfer is yet another Michigan native that got to spend college in his home state however he played at the University of Michigan for four seasons before coming to the NHL. Connor Clifton has come onto the scene out of nowhere after four seasons at Quinnipiac University and is really making a name for himself with his play these playoffs. He’s yet another former captain on the Bruins, and it’s starting to really make sense how this team is doing so well.

Other Bruins that have contributed this season that played NCAA hockey were Jacob Forsbacka-Karlsson (Boston University), Trent Frederic (University of Wisconsin), and Paul Carey (Boston College).

It’s clear to see just looking through these players college careers that there’s a big reason aside from skill that this Bruins team is doing so well. Their locker room is filled with tons of leaders and former captains of very successful college teams. I think this influx of college talent will only continue to grow not just for the Bruins, but for the entire league with highly touted prospects like Cole Caufield, Trevor Zegras, Alex Turcotte and many more high profile players committing to schools to play hockey. With all the success the Bruins have had with these players, let’s hope they draft another few this year.

Cliffy Hockey: Bruins Young Defenseman Shining On The Brightest Stage

clifton2

(Photo Courtesy of Charles Krupa / Associated Press)

By: Tim Richardson | Follow Me On Twitter @TimARichardson

A year ago, young defenseman Connor Clifton played in his first season with the Providence Bruins. He came to Providence as a college free agent signing an AHL contract, after not signing with the Arizona Coyotes (the team that drafted him) and electing free agency. The New Jersey native came from Quinnipiac University, where he had a very successful college career, and even served as the Bobcats’ Captain in his senior season. After taking some time to adjust to the AHL game, the young defenseman got better with each game he played through the season. The Boston Bruins were so happy with his progression that they signed him to a two-year ELC after last season.

Coming into this season, the major things that stood out about Clifton’s game were his great skating ability, and his aggressive play both with and without the puck. The former Quinnipiac University Captain came into this season on a mission, playing extremely well for Providence. Even early in the season, it was easy to see that Clifton had the biggest improvement in play from last year to this year. Then in mid-November with a lot of injuries to the Boston defense, Clifton got his first call-up to the big club. In his nine-game stint, he looked good. The young defenseman didn’t register a point, but he played good defense and looked like he belonged in the NHL.

After being sent back down to Providence, he continued to improve his game. Playing great defense while also contributing offensively as well. The injury bug bit the Boston Bruins defense again, and in mid-March, Clifton was called back up to the NHL, and this time it was for good. He would play in 10 games at the end of the regular season and registered his first NHL point, getting an assist in a win against the Florida Panthers. Overall, in 19 games with the Boston, he registered the one point. While in Providence, he netted six goals while dishing out 21 assists for 27 points in 53 games played. That’s a point per game total of .509.

At the end of the season, Clifton was playing so well that the Bruins decided he would be in their line-up when the playoffs started April 11, 2019, against Toronto. The New Jersey native would get dinged up in the game one loss to Toronto, but finally got back into the line-up in time for the game seven victory that sent Toronto home for the summer and Cliffy Hockey was born. The young defenseman has played so well that he’s stayed in the rotation even with big free agent acquisition John Moore, who signed a five-year 13.75 million dollar contract in July being healthy.

With each game Clifton plays, you can see him getting more confident and playing better. Not only defensively, but offensively as well. The Quinnipiac Alum plays big. He’s not afraid to throw his body around, and he plays an aggressive style that is an absolute joy to watch. Not only that, his skating ability is awesome. Clifton’s speed has helped in both ends of the ice these playoffs. His play has really peaked during this recent eight-game playoff winning streak that the Bruins are on. In the eight games, he’s netted his first two career NHL goals, and dished out two assists for four total points. As the stage gets brighter, so does Clifton’s play. His goal in game one of the Stanley Cup Final was huge. The Bruins were down 2-0, and the goal turned the tide of the game.

The Boston Bruins find themselves just three wins away from hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup for the seventh time in franchise history. There are many contributing factors that have led them to this point. The play of Tuukka Rask, the play of Marcus Johansson, Charlie Coyle, and the third line, the play of Sean Kuraly and the fourth line, even the team’s defense as a whole. However, even with all of those factors, Connor Clifton’s coming out party which has solidified the defensive third pairing is as big a factor as all of those things. If Boston wants to finish off this season with a championship, then Clifton will need to continue his high level of play, and I expect him to do just that. Feel free to leave me any comments or questions on Twitter, and I hope everyone enjoys the rest of the Stanley Cup Final. Finally, most importantly, GO, B’S, GO!

Bruins Post-Game Recap: SCF Game 1: St. Louis at Boston: 5/27/19

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Boston BruinsPhoto Courtesy Of CBS Sports

By: Garrett Haydon | Follow Me On Twitter @thesportsguy97

Pre-Game Notes

Arena: TD Garden, Boston, Massachusetts

Home: Boston Bruins (12-5)

Away: St. Louis Blues (12-7)

Boston’s Lineup

Forwards

Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak

DeBrusk-Krejci-Backes

Johansson-Coyle-Heinen

Nordstrom-Kuraly-Acciari

Defense

Chara-McAvoy

Krug-Carlo

Grzelcyk-Clifton

Goalies

Rask

Halak

St. Louis’s Lineup

Forwards

Schwartz-Schenn-Tarasenko

Blais-O’Reilly-Perron

Maroon-Bozak-Thomas

Barbashev-Sundqvist-Steen

Defense

Edmundson-Pietrangelo

Bouwmeester-Parayko

Gunnarsson-Bortuzzo

Goalies

Binnington

Allen

First Period

The Bruins got out to a flying start with a few good chances in the St. Louis zone. Neither team looked to show much rust in the opening moments as they both looked ready to go from the start. Sean Kuraly went to the penalty box for tripping under four minutes into the period as the Blues got their first power play opportunity. The Bruins killed off the man advantage as the Blues failed to get any significant scoring chances. Brayden Schenn gave the Blues the first period lead with a nice shot on a loose puck with about 12:30 left in the period.

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The Blues seemed to grab the momentum with a couple of good shifts following the goal. The Bruins would pick up their first power play as David Perron was called for tripping with 6:45 left in the period. Marcus Johansson had a great look late in the man advantage but hit the post. The Blues killed the penalty despite the Bruins getting some solid scoring chances.

Robert Thomas was called for hooking late in the period as the Bruins got another power play opportunity. The Blues killed off the penalty yet again as the Bruins continued to move the puck effectively on the man advantage.

Score: 1-0 Blues

Second Period

Vladimir Tarasenko made it 2-0 just a minute into the period after a terrible turnover in the Boston zone by David Pastrnak.

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Connor Clifton deflected a puck past Jordan Binnington shortly after the goal on a spectacular play by Kuraly that cut the lead in half.

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The Bruins started to find their legs after the goal by Clifton as they looked to even the score. The Bruins would go back to the man advantage as David Backes took a high stick from Joel Edmundson as they looked to tie the game. The Blues killed off yet another man advantage but the Bruins continued to move the puck effectively and get good chances.

The Bruins got another man advantage opportunity as Oscar Sundqvist was called for a cross check on Clifton. Charlie McAvoy fired a quick wrist shot past Binnington off a deflection to tie the game for the Bruins on the power play.

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The Bruins began to get much more physically involved in the second period as they started to push back on the Blues who had established the physical play initially. The Bruins continued to look a lot more comfortable in the second period as they got their legs out from under them which allowed them to take control of the tempo.

Score: Tied 2-2

Third Period

The B’s strung together some really solid shifts to open the period as they looked to truly impose their will and take the lead. Kuraly jumped on a loose puck in the offensive zone after it was kept alive and buried it as the Bruins took the lead for the first time about five minutes into the final period.

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David Krejci took a elbowing penalty with about 13 minutes to go as the Blues got a power play opportunity to try to tie the game. The Bruins killed it off as the Blues failed to gain any momentum from the man advantage. The B’s continued to move their legs in the final frame as they looked to close the game out and take an advantage in the series. The Bruins would go to the power play again with 6:32 to play as Sammy Blais went to the box for interference. The Blues killed off the penalty as they remained within striking distance.

The Blues pulled the goaltender with about two minutes to go and Brad Marchand buried the empty net goal shortly after to ice the game for the B’s.

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Final Score: 4-2 Bruins

Three Stars Of The Game

First Star: Clifton. The young defenseman had perhaps his best game in black and gold as he was the best player on the ice for some big stretches in the game.

Second Star: Kuraly. The fourth liner was everywhere on the ice in Game 1 as was rewarded with the winning goal.

Third Star: McAvoy. Another young defenseman with a solid game, McAvoy was very solid once again and factored into the scoring with the tying goal in the second period.

Bruins AHL Affiliate: Providence Bruins 2018-19 Season Review

providence

(Photo Courtesy of Providence Bruins / Flickr)

By: Tim Richardson | Follow Me On Twitter @TimARichardson

The Providence Bruins 2018-19 AHL season came to an end on Friday, April 26, 2019, when they lost 4-1 to the Charlotte Checkers which gave the Hurricanes’ affiliate the 3-1 series win in the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs. It was an exciting season of highs and lows for the baby Bs, and the team gave us as fans a lot to look forward to in the coming years. There are many players that we can look forward to seeing not only in Providence next season but Boston for years to come. Later in the article, I will go a little more in-depth about a player at each position that I am especially excited about, but guys like Urho Vaakanainen, Jack Studnicka, Jeremy Lauzon, Trent Frederic, and Kyle Keyser are players you should be extremely excited about.

Team Breakdown 

The season started off rough for the Providence hockey club. They went 3-5-1 in October which frustrated not only the players but the fans as well. The month of November was much better for our boys in black and gold going 6-3-2 bring their record to 9-8-3. As we got deep into the holiday season, the Providence Bruins continued to struggle a bit. The month of December the Bruins went 5-7-2 bringing their overall record to 14-15-5. This was especially frustrating because despite the player call-ups and injuries this team was extremely talented and seemed to not be playing to their ability.

The new year hit, and the team was 15-16-5 after the first two games, and then something amazing happened. The team went on a 12-game point streak that went from January 6, 2019, to February 8, 2019. During the point streak, they went 10-0-1-1, and it was largely in part thanks to the defense and Zane McIntyre.  The point streak catapulted the team to a 25-16-6-1 record, and they jumped into playoff position during that 12-game period.

The rest of February wasn’t as kind to the Providence hockey club, they ended the month 3-4-1 pushing their record to 28-20-7-1 by the end of February. The month of March was very good to the baby B’s they went 7-4-1-2 pushing their record to 35-24-8-3 going into the final month of the season. The team would go 3-3 their final six games of the year pushing their final overall record to 38-27-8-3 (87 points) which was good for fourth in the Atlantic Division and seventh in the Eastern Conference.

The Providence Bruins ended up having a goal differential of +16 with 228 goals scored and 212 goals against. This was very good. The team defense was one of the best in the Eastern Conference.  The baby B’s would go on to have the seventh-ranked power play in the Atlantic Division and 12th-ranked in the Eastern Conference at 17.7%. The penalty kill, on the other hand, would end up being one of the best in the league being ranked third in the Eastern Conference as well as the Atlantic Division at 85%.

Forwards

The forward group had lofty expectations right from the get-go. They had a few big name prospects that were expected to make that jump from prospect to legitimate NHL player. The two main prospects that were supposed to take huge steps forward were Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Trent Frederic. Both young forwards were competing for the third-line center position in Boston during training camp. Ultimately, neither player would win the position out of camp and both would spend time in Boston never fully grasping the position.

Trent Frederic, a former University of Wisconsin Badger, did well in his first full professional year of hockey. Despite a slow start, it seemed like getting called up to Boston gave the young center confidence which translated into better play and more scoring later on in the season for Providence. Overall in 55 for the baby Bs, Frederic netted 14 goals while dishing out 11 assists for 25 total points. This is a point per game total of 0.45. Something else that was promising for the young center was 18 of his 25 points were scored after the new year. As the year went on, he got stronger. He did play in 15 games with Boston and didn’t register a point. However, he still looked solid when he played. Overall, I think this was a season that Frederic can build upon and I think he will end up being a good third or fourth line center for Boston in the future.

Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, on the other hand, might be a piece used in a bigger trade to strengthen the NHL roster. The former Boston University Terrier took a step back in a lot of people’s opinion. The young center did spend time in Boston and Providence and did deal with some injuries. It’s possible that the uncertainty about where he was playing, and getting hurt played into a less than stellar season. Ultimately, in 28 games with Providence, he netted seven goals and dished out nine assists for 16 total points. That’s a point per game total of 0.57. With Boston, he netted three goals and dished out six assists for nine points in 28 games. That’s a point per game total of 0.32.

Another forward that was expected to take a big leap forward, and failed to do so was Zach Senyshyn. The young speedster excelled in the OHL scoring at a point per game clip of 0.91 (114-63-177 in 195 games). This has yet to translate fully to the AHL game, though he does show flashes of brilliance. In 66 games with Providence, the young winger netted 14 goals while dishing out 10 assists for 24 total points. This is a point per game total of 0.36. While he did score two more goals than last season he did also have two fewer points overall in the same amount of games. Despite this, Senyshyn did earn a call-up to Boston and in two games netted a goal. I am hoping that the confidence he showed there translates next season.

Two forwards who were both in their first professional season who surprised and had great years were the former University of Minnesota-Duluth Captain and NCAA champion Karson Kuhlman and the former University of Wisconsin Captain Cameron Hughes. Hughes had a strong start to the season, and then injury hurt his productivity, but he still ended up netting 13 goals and dishing 15 assists for 28 total points in 53 games. That’s a point per game total of 0.53. The former University of Wisconsin forward looks like he could be a strong player on one of the bottom two lines at the NHL level. He will be someone to look at next season.

Kuhlman, on the other hand, had a marvelous season. The former NCAA champion netted 12 goals while also dishing out 18 assists for 30 total points in 58 games for Providence. That’s a point per game total of 0.51. The young forward played so well that he earned a call-up to Boston and in 11 regular season games netted three goals while dishing out two assists for five total points. The former University of Minnesota-Duluth Captain also has played in six playoff games for Boston this season and in those games has dished out two assists for two total points. He is someone who could potentially be a middle six forward in the NHL. He is someone to be excited about not only the rest of this season but next season too.

This brings me to the three guys who were probably the most consistent forwards throughout the year for Providence. First, is Jordan Szwarz who would serve as the Captain for Providence this season. The gritty forward was an excellent veteran presence in the locker room for the baby Bs. He is someone who served as a Captain or Associate Captain at every AHL team he’s played for. In 68 games with the Providence hockey club, he netted 23 goals and dished out 23 assists for 46 total points. That’s a point per game total of 0.67. It was his third year in a row with the spoked P where he netted at least 20 goals. He became the fifth person in team history to do so. Szwarz is an unrestricted free agent after this season so the likelihood of him in the organization next season isn’t great.

Next, we have Gemel Smith. The OHL product was acquired from Dallas in December and was excellent for Providence. In 47 games he netted 16 goals while dishing out 24 assists for 40 total points. That is a point per game total of 0.85. Smith is an RFA after this season so, he is someone that we may not see next season in the organization, but regardless was excellent this season. That brings us to the third guy on my list of “most consistent forwards on the year for Providence” Paul Carey. The veteran forward was acquired in January from Ottawa and was nothing short of brilliant in his time with the baby Bs. In 30 games with the club, the former Boston College Eagle netted 22 goals while dishing out 11 assists for 33 total points. That’s a point per game total of 1.10.

Finally, the forward I am most excited about next year and beyond is someone who didn’t play a regular season game for Providence but joined the team in the playoffs. That person is Jack Studnicka. To me, he is the best offensive prospect in the system. The young center spent the entire regular season in the OHL splitting time between the Oshawa Generals and the Niagra IceDogs. In 30 games with Oshawa, he netted 12 goals and dished out 22 assists for 34 total points. Then, in 30 games with Niagra, Studnicka netted 24 goals and dished out 25 assists for 49 total points. That means, in 60 total OHL games he netted 36 goals and dished out 47 assists for 83 total points. That’s a point per game total of 1.38. He also played in 11 playoff games with the IceDogs netting six goals and dishing out five assists for 11 total points. In four playoff games with Providence, he netted one goal and dished out one assist for two total points. The young forward is someone to look for next season and be extremely excited about.

Defense

The defense is another group that had many high profiles prospects that are well known throughout the system. Thanks to many injuries early on for the parent club in Boston, a lot of these prospects saw time in the NHL. One of those players is Jeremy Lauzon. The former QMJHL champion had a good season with Providence despite injury and being called up. In 29 games with the baby Bs, he found the back of the net once and dished six assists for seven total points. This is a point per game total of 0.24. The good news is he had the same exact stats last season in 55 games. So, his scoring rate increased despite getting hurt. In 16 games with Boston, he netted one goal for one total point. He also flashed some really good defensive ability. I could definitely see Lauzon being part of the Boston defense for years to come.

Another guy that spent a couple games up in Boston was Jakub Zboril. In two games with the parent club, he didn’t register a point but he played good defense. The major thing was he looked like he belonged. In 56 games with the Providence Bruins, the former QMJHL Champion netted four goals and dished out 15 assists for 19 total points. That’s a point per game total of 0.33. Again, the good news here is that the young defenseman had the same exact stat line in 68 games with the baby Bs last season. This means his scoring rate increased which is positive because he is billed as a two-way defenseman. Zboril is an interesting case because with the depth the team has he could be dealt for a bigger piece or he could remain with the organization and be part of the team’s defensive plan moving forward.

Connor Clifton probably made the biggest jump from year one with Providence to year two, and it was a surprising jump at that. With all of the other defensive prospects the team had, the former Quinnipiac University Captain was overlooked. That turned out to be a mistake. In 53 games he netted six goals while dishing out 21 assists for 27 total points. That is a point per game total of 0.51. The young defenseman’s scoring rate almost doubled from last season. To top it off he was playing really good defense, and when Boston needed someone called up because of injury, they called on Clifton. In 19 games with the parent club, he dished out one assist for one point, while also playing a key role on the third defensive pairing. He has also played a pivotal role in the playoffs anchoring the third pair. Overall, I think Clifton can be a better version of Kevan Miller for the Boston Bruins moving forward.

There are two defensemen that I am extremely excited for next season for two totally different reasons. The first one is Cooper Zech. The young defenseman came to Providence as an undrafted free agent in March after his freshman season at Ferris State University. While there, he led the Bulldogs in scoring netting eight goals and dishing out 20 assists for 28 total points in 36 games. That’s a point per game total of 0.78. In 12 games with the Providence hockey club, he didn’t find the back of the net but did dish out four assists for four total points, and in the team’s four playoff games, he netted two goals for two total points. The main reason I am excited about Zech is I want to see how his offensive game translates to the AHL. If he can keep up a point per game total of 0.78 for a full AHL season he would have a 59 point season over 76 games.

The other defenseman I am extremely excited about is Urho Vaakanainen. The Finnish defenseman was drafted in the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft and this was his first full professional season in North America. Despite getting injured during the second game of a brief two-game call-up, the young defenseman had a great season Providence. In 30 games with the baby Bs, he netted four goals while dishing out 10 assists for 14 total points. This is a point per game total of 0.46. He didn’t register a point during the brief Calder Cup playoff stint but he played great defense. This is a player that I think is going to be a top pairing defenseman for the Boston Bruins for years to come. He not only possesses the defensive ability, but he also has some nice offensive ability too. Look for him to possibly make an impact in Boston as early as next season.

Goaltending

The goaltending for the Providence Bruins this season was not very consistent. They had stretches where it was lights out and others where it seemed like every shot was going in. First, we had Zane McIntyre who in his fourth season with Providence you hoped he would show that he could potentially at least be a back-up in the NHL. In 46 games with Providence this season, the University of North Dakota alum was 25-14-7 with a GAA of 2.59 and a save percentage of .898. The veteran netminder will be a group 6 unrestricted free agent this off-season. This happens when a player is 25 and have had at least three professional seasons beyond junior or collegiate hockey. I believe this means that McIntyre won’t be back in the organization next season especially with Kyle Keyser ready for the AHL and Jeremy Swayman waiting in the wings at the University of Maine.

Dan Vladar had a respectable first season in Providence with the Bruins. In 31 games with the baby Bs, the 21-year old netminder was 13-13-4 with a GAA of 2.73 and a save percentage of .898. The young goalie showed you flashes of great play and the potential to be at least a back-up goalie at the NHL level. I expect him to share the load in Providence next season with Kyle Keyser who will likely play in his first full AHL season with the spoked P. It’ll be interesting to see if Vladar is able to take a big step forward next season, I like him overall as a prospect and hope that he has a great year next year.

That brings us to Kyle Keyser. The 20-year old goalie made his Providence debut during the Calder Cup playoffs in game four of the first round. The OHL product was forced into playing time because of a Vladar injury, and McIntyre being called up to Boston as the “black aces” goalie for the playoffs. The OHL product played as well as could be expected, stopping 26 of 29 shots that were fired his way in the series finale loss. Keyser is coming off an excellent season with the Oshawa Generals where in 47 games he was 32-8 with a GAA of 2.75 and a save percentage of .915. He also played excellently during their playoff run going 8-7 with a GAA of 2.83 and a save percentage of .925. This is the goalie I am most excited about the Bruins system. I think he has the tools to eventually be a number one goaltender in the NHL.

Ultimately, it was a fun season for the Providence Bruins that was full of ups, downs and a ton of excitement. It may have ended quicker than we all would have liked, but it was awesome watching our boys in black and gold play all season. There are many reasons to be excited about not only the AHL club moving forward but also the big club in Boston. They had prospects take important steps forward, and hopefully, those players continue their development and then make waves in the NHL. On a personal note, it was fun previewing the Providence Bruins for everyone this season, and I thank you for reading. Now that my rookie season is over expect next season to be even better. I will catch up with everyone as much as I can during the off-season but feel free to send any questions or comments to me on Twitter. I hope everyone enjoys the time off and Go, B’s, Go!