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.

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Pearson: Top-10 Bruins Prospects

VICTORIA , BC - DECEMBER 21: Jack Studnicka #23 of Team Canada raises his stick to salute the fans following a game versus Team Slovakia at the IIHF World Junior Championships at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre on December 21, 2018 in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images)

(Kevin Light/Getty Images)

By: Lucas Pearson  |  Follow Me On Twitter @LucasPearson_

Recently fellow Black N’ Gold writer Mike Cratty had an idea to simply rank the Bruins prospects and suggested that we all take a stab at ranking the Bs farm system. His rules were simply that there were no players on AHL only deals (like Cooper Zech) and that Anders Bjork and Karson Kuhlman weren’t eligible for the list. Make sure you read Mike’s article here, but without further ado, here’s my list.

10. Jakub Zboril

Just because the Bruins may have missed out on players like Thomas Chabot and Matthew Barzal doesn’t mean they did not get anything of value with those picks in that infamous 2015 draft. With the ridiculous amounts of injuries that plagued the Bruins defense, we all got to see Zboril in a little NHL action. He looked pretty good in his two games with the big club and after back to back solid years in the AHL, it’s not time to give up on this promising young Czech man.

9. Zach Senyshyn

From one criticized pick to another, Senyshyn is not a bust just yet. While he hasn’t had the most outstanding numbers in the AHL (with 50 points in 132 games) but was a two-time 40 goal scorer in the OHL. We saw a glimpse of the Ottawa native in a couple of games to end the season, and he looked far from out of place in Boston. It will be very interesting to see how Senyshyn will play with his first true shot at cracking the top 9 in Boston.

NHL: Winnipeg Jets at Boston Bruins

(Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

8. Trent Frederic

Unlike the previous two players, we got to have an extended look at Trent Frederic in the NHL. He was far from dominant in his 15 game stint, failing to register a point in all 15 games, but showed that he had the grit and work ethic of an NHL player. I think Frederic will 100% become a regular NHLer but whether that is in the top or bottom six has yet to be seen. A full year of top-six minutes in the AHL would do wonders for Frederic’s game.

7. Kyle Keyser

I’m a huge fan of Keyser. Last year with the Oshawa Generals he boasted the second-best save percentage (.915) in all of the OHL and was even better in the playoffs where he posted a .925 save percentage in the Generals 15 game playoff run. Keyser was able to make the World Junior Championships with the US and start their first two games but was unfortunately struck with an illness before the team’s third game and didn’t play again in the tournament due to teammate Cayden Primeau’s stellar play. At just 20 years old, Keyser has a real chance to take the reigns from Tuukka Rask a few years down the line if he continues to impress in his development.

(Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images)

6. Oskar Steen

After a year in the SHL where he had a grand total of six points in 45 games, Steen had a breakout season in the for Farjestad BK where he was able to notch 17 goals and 37 points in 46 games, good for 10th in the SHL. What was even more impressive about that season was that the nine players above Steen had an average age of 30, the youngest being 26 while Steen is still just 21. With his speed and agility, I’d lookout for the young Swede to be an under the radar fit for the Bruins big league roster this year.

5. Jeremy Lauzon

In his short stay in the NHL, this season Lauzon impressed a lot of people. He isn’t the flashiest player, but is really solid in his own end and showed a lot of playmaking ability in his years in the QMJHL, tallying 40 assists in 46 games during his final season. If the Bruins didn’t have such a logjam at defense, Lauzon would certainly be on the Bruins roster this year.

(Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

4. Jakub Lauko

Lauko continues to look more and more like a steal as we continue to see him grow. Originally projected to go in the middle of the second round, Lauko fell to the Bruins in the 3rd round of the 2018 draft. The 19-year-old notched 41 points in 44 games and helped the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies win the President’s Cup this past year. His blazing speed and hockey IQ sets him apart from most of the competition and should set him up to be a really solid NHL player.

3. John Beecher

I’m not going to lie, when I saw that Arthur Kaliyev dropped all the way to pick 30, I really wanted the Bruins to hop all over him. When I learned that the Bruins drafted yet another player that was expected to go later in the draft I was honestly pretty disappointed but man, every single day I learn more about Beecher I continue to love this pick more and more. Beecher was overshadowed heavily by players like Jack Hughes, Cole Caufield, and Alex Turcotte but still put together a solid season playing outside of the top six in the US developmental program, putting up 43 points in 63 games. Most recently Beecher has raised a lot of eyebrows at the World Junior Summer Showcase where he has displayed his speed, agility and two-way prowess while impressing many people.

Urho Vaakanainen

(Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

2. Urho Vaakanainen

It really is a shame that Vaakanainen had to get cheap shot early in just his second NHL game because we didn’t get to truly see what the young Fin had in store, but there’s no question that the Bruins have something in store with this defenseman. The 18th overall pick in the 2017 draft is a strong skater and is very reliable in his own zone with the ability to move the puck very well. Vaakanainen is already a two-time gold medalist, winning the U-18 and U-20 championships with team Finland.

1. Jack Studnicka

I thought for a while on who deserved the top spot on this list, but ultimately, I chose Studnicka. Last season Studnicka began his season with the Oshawa Generals, averaging above a point per game but really stepped up when he was traded mid-season to the Niagra IceDogs where he was able to light the lamp 24 times and add 25 assists in just 30 games. Even when he was on team Canada at World Juniors with players like Morgan Frost, Cody Glass and Barret Hayton, he was able to stand out and catch the eye of everyone. Bob McKenzie said following a game that “It was pretty obvious that Jack Studnicka was the best player on the ice,” quite the praise for a guy that wasn’t playing top minutes on the team. A year after missing out on the 3rd line center position, Studnicka will once again look to crack the Bruins roster and make his mark in the NHL.

Honorable Mentions: Axel Andersson, Pavel Shen, Jacob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Peter Cehlarik, Cameron Hughes, Jeremy Swayman

Bruins 2015 NHL Draft: Grading Sweeney’s Selections

(Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

By: Lucas Pearson  |  Follow Me On Twitter @lucaspearson_

After taking a look at every trade by Bruins GM Don Sweeney, we now dive into his draft history. We begin with his first and most controversy draft, the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.

In grading the picks, I’ll look at: where they were projected to go, what they have done so far, what players before and after have done so far, their fit to the Bruins at the time, among other aspects. These grades can easily change in a years time, some prospects take longer to groom before being. This entire grading as a whole is still way too early, you can really only grade a draft a decade down the line and see what impact (or lack thereof) the players have made.

Round 1, 13th Overall: Jakub Zboril

Grade: D+

It was well documented that the Bruins wanted to flip a couple of picks and move up in the draft to select the slick two-way defender Noah Hanifin. Obviously, they weren’t able to do that, and the Bruins also ended up missing out on similar D in Ivan Provorov and Zach Werenski to take the rains from Chara. Rather than go for a more offensive guy in Thomas Chabot (hindsight is 20/20) the Bruins ended up picking a more reliable, hard-working defenseman in Zboril. The young Czech D has slowly been developing in the AHL and has grown both offensively and defensively. While he didn’t play much (averaging 10:56 in his two games), he didn’t look out of place in his brief stint with the big club. He’ll carve a role the NHL at some point, there’s no questioning that, it’s just a matter of when and where.

(sportingnews.com)

Round 1, 14th Overall: Jake Debrusk

Grade: B+

Already a fan favorite in just his second season with Boston, Debrusk has been exactly what the Bruins’ management wanted him to be. The 22-year-old shows his work ethic every single shift he’s on the ice and is really starting to develop into a big goal scorer. If he wasn’t injured earlier on, he had a very good shot of hitting the 30 goal mark on the season. You can compare him to guys like Matthew Barzal or Brock Boeser who were drafted behind him, but Debrusk had embodied what it means to be a Bruin from the get-go.

Round 1, 15th Overall: Zachary Senyshyn

Grade: D

I like Senyshyn a lot. Despite being behind in development compared to some of his fellow draftees, he’s the type of player that the Bruins need. He’s got great speed, solid size, and being a right shot power-forward, it’s exactly the kind of player that would look great on the right side of David Krejci. My biggest problem with this pick is that the Bruins didn’t trade down in the 1st round to get him. Because he was projected to go early to mid 2nd round, you would think that if the Bruins wanted the player so badly, they could’ve moved down in the draft with one of these picks similar to what Toronto did in trading their 1st rounder (24th overall) to the Flyers for a 1st rounder (29th overall) and a 2nd rounder (61st overall). With all of the talent in the 1st round, there were bound to be other teams with the wish to move up in the draft to select a guy like Matthew Barzal or Kyle Connor. I have no problem with the player, I think at some point he will certainly become a consistent middle-six forward, but if Sweeney managed his assets a little better, maybe they come out of the draft with another talented prospect along with Senyshyn.

 

(Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Round 2, 37th Overall: Brandon Carlo

Grade: A

The Bruins hit a home-run with this pick. After playing just seven games in the AHL in the previous season, Carlo made the jump to full-time NHLer in 2016 as a 19-year-old. He played the entire 82 game season but definitely looked shaky at times. Since then, Carlo has really started to carve out a role on the Bruins back-end. I think he’s the Bruin that has improved the most since last season. He’s been an outstanding penalty killer and overall great shutdown defenseman while adding a lot more grit to his game. If Carlo could work on his offensive skills a bit more (just three points in 41 games this year), I can see him on the top pair for the Bruins for many years to come.

Round 2, 45th Overall: Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson

Grade: B+

Now while calling him “Patrice Bergeron 2.0” is a bit far-fetched at this point in his career, there’s no doubt that the young Swede has the skill-set to be a full-time NHLer. We’ve seen flashes of brilliance both offensively and defensively in his 28 games with the Bruins, but the consistency just isn’t quite there yet. At times, JFK looks a bit lackadaisical and not giving his full effort, but if he can work out his quirks, his two-way prowess will allow him to be a very good NHL player.

 

(Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)

Round 2, 52nd Overall: Jeremy Lauzon

Grade: B+

With the ridiculous amount of injuries the Bruins’ D-core had, we got to see a lot of Lauzon in the NHL. He looked very comfortable in his 15 games in the NHL, there was nothing not to like. His 6’1, 205 lbs frame, combined with his puck-moving ability, makes him a two-way threat from the back-end. I’d say he deserves to be a regular NHLer next season, although he’s is unlikely to be that with the amount of depth the Bruins already have on D.

Round 3, 75th Overall: Daniel Vladar

Grade: B-

Goalies are always hard to judge after they’re drafted. So many of them are busts, but so many of them are late bloomers. Only two goalies (Mackenzie Blackwood and Adin Hill) have seen an NHL game from the entire draft. Vladar has been solid in the AHL but not outstanding. I’d expect him to challenge for the Bruins backup goalie position after Jaroslav Halak’s contract expires but the 6’5 Czech-man will have to wait a while until he gets his shot with the Bruins.

 

cut (3).jpg

(dobberprospects.com)

Round 5, 105th Overall: Jesse Gabrielle

Grade: C

Gabrielle is a very confusing player. After the Bruins drafted him in 2015, he went on to have two very good seasons in the WHL, lighting the lamp a total of 75 times in those two seasons. He’s got a bit of snarl to his game and some silky hands, but it just hasn’t clicked for Gabrielle in his pro career as of now. This year, he has a -22 rating in the ECHL and hasn’t even been given a look in the AHL. I’m not ready to call the player a bust just yet because he’s still just 21 years old, but something needs to change, whether it’s mentally or physically, if he wants a shot at making the NHL.

Round 6, 165th Overall: Cameron Hughes

Grade: B

A really good find late in the draft by the Bruins. After a so-so draft year at the University of Wisconsin, he progressed very nicely, upping his goal total each following season and eventually being named “captain” in his senior year in the NCAA. He’s continued on this path and has been a really solid player in the AHL this year, totaling 10 goals and 25 points in 45 games.

 

(Pioneer Press: Ben Garvin)

Round 7, 195th Overall: Jack Becker

Grade: C+

Now the chances of a 7th rounder making the NHL are slim, but there’s actually quite a bit to like with Becker. Now at the University of Michigan, Becker has had a decent year with 10 points in 25 games. He plays the game hard, but the best thing about Becker is his size. He’s 6’3, and with that frame, I won’t be surprised if he’s able to challenge for a bottom 6 role in the NHL at some point down the line.

So even with the controversial 1st round, there’s no questioning that the Bruins came out of this draft with a lot of talent. Many of the players have already sniffed the NHL and have very good chances to be everyday players with the Bruins. Sweeney’s average grade on this draft is just under a B- which is fairly accurate in looking at this draft. I do want to say again that these draft picks really can’t be properly judged until many, many years down the line but it was a fun thing to do as I’m continuing grading Don Sweeney’s tenure with the Bruins so far.

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Bruins AHL Affiliate: Providence Bruins Week 11 Preview

Senyshyn

(Photo Courtesy of the Providence Bruins)

By: Tim Richardson | Follow Me On Twitter @TimARichardson

This weekend kicks off a five-game road trip that won’t see the Providence Bruins return to the Dunk until January 4th, 2019 when they play the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The Baby B’s currently sit 6th in the Atlantic Division with a record of 12-12-5 (29 points) and are 4-4-2 in their last 10 games. The team starts the aforementioned road trip on Friday traveling to Binghamton, New York where they play the home Binghamton Devils at the Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena. The Providence club finishes up the weekend on Saturday by playing the host Springfield Thunderbirds in Springfield, Massachusetts. The Bruins hope they can find some road magic this holiday season.

Friday, December 21st Providence Bruins vs. Binghamton Devils (AWAY) 

The Friday match-up marks the first time the Bruins have played the Devils this season, and it’s one that they should be looking forward to. Over the past 5 years, the Baby B’s have a 13-5-1-1 record against the New Jersey affiliate, including a 9-1 record in Binghamton during that time and a 4-0 overall record last season. Providence hopes to carry that success into this season. Binghamton has had a rough go of it thus far. They come into the game with a record of 12-16-3 (27 points) and are 4-6 in their last 10 games. This is a game that Bruins should absolutely win, especially if they want to climb the standings and make their way into playoff contention.  

Saturday, December 22nd Providence Bruins vs. Springfield Thunderbirds (AWAY) 

This game marks the third time the Bruins and Thunderbirds have faced off this season. In the first meeting, Springfield beat Providence 6-3 with the Bruins getting goals from Zach Senyshyn, Ryan Fitzgerald, and Colby Cave. Meanwhile, goalie Zane McIntyre was a little off his game stopping 14 of 20 shots. The second meeting between the two teams saw a different score with the same result. The Florida Panther’s affiliate beat the Baby B’s 4-2 with the Bruins getting goals from Martin Bakos and Jan Kovar, while goalie Zane McIntyre looked much better stopping 17 of 20 shots in net.

The third game of the season series won’t be much easier for Providence. Springfield comes into it 15-8-2-3 (33 points) good for third in the Atlantic Division with games in hand and is 5-2-2-1 in their last 10 games. Despite their struggles in two games this year, something that bodes well for the boys in black and gold is that they have an 8-5-2 record in Springfield over the past 5 years and a 17-9-2 record overall in that time frame.

Who’s hot and Who’s not for the Bruins 

Hot: 

Anders Bjork: Since being sent down to Providence Bjork has been great. Over his past 7 games, he has netted 1 goal and dished out 7 assists for 8 total points. This is exactly what you want to see from a player who was sent down to work on their game. 

Zach Senyshyn: Senyshyn’s last 7 games have been fruitful seeing him score 5 goals. His speed and scoring ability has been on full display, and it has been great to see. Keep an eye out for it this weekend. 

 Not: 

Austin FytenOn the flip-side, the last 7 games for Fyten have been ones he’d like to forget. The left wing has 0 goals and 1 assist, and on top of that, he was suspended for the last game because of a slashing incident. Hopefully, he can put all that behind him and have a good road trip.

Trent Frederic: Frederic has tallied 0 goals, and 1 assist over his past 7 games. Hopefully, the young center can pick things up for the Bruins. They need a spark offensively, and if Frederic can provide that, it would do a lot for the team this weekend. 

My players to watch this weekend: 

Up Front: 

Zach SenyshynSenyshyn seems to have found the scoring touch netting 5 goals in his last 7 games. This is great news for the Bruins and their fans. There are people that were worried his development was taking too long, but it looks like being patient is going to pay off.  

On The Blue Line: 

Jeremy Lauzon: He was recently sent back to Providence from Boston. In his mini stint with the big club, the defenseman looked good in both ends of the ice. I expect him to take what he learned in Boston and use it to develop more in Providence.  

In Net: 

Zane McIntyre: I would look for him to have a good weekend for the Baby B’s. It is an excellent chance for the goalie to make up for the losses against Springfield and come up huge for the club.  

Overall, it could be an up and down weekend for Providence playing in a game they should win and a game that could go either way. Hopefully, the Baby B’s can take care of business against Binghamton while also breaking through against Springfield. It would be a big 4 points for the club and would go a long way to helping them climb the Atlantic Division standings. I will catch you up next week and let you know how the team fared but feel free to send me any comments or questions on Twitter. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday, and Go, B’s, Go! 

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Bruins Announce Pair Of Transactions

lee_091618_capbruins9_sptsPhoto Courtesy Of The Boston Globe

By: Garrett Haydon | Follow Me On Twitter @thesportsguy97

Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney announced today, Tuesday that the team has placed forward Gemel Smith on waivers and has also assigned defenseman Jeremy Lauzon to the Providence Bruins.

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Smith skated in three games for the team after being claimed off waivers from the Dallas Stars on December 6th. The 24-year-old played in 14 games with the Stars this season, posting two goals and one assist for three points. The Toronto native was selected by the Stars in the fourth round (104th overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

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Lauzon has appeared in 15 games this season for the black and gold, making his NHL debut on October 25th against the Philadelphia Flyers. The 21-year-old has totaled a single goal this season, his first career goal on November 11th against the Vegas Golden Knights. Lauzon has also appeared in eight games this season with the Providence Bruins, posting a goal and three assists for four points. In his first professional season in 2017-18, Lauzon skated in 52 games for Providence, totaling a goal and six assists for seven points.

The Val D’or, Quebec native was selected by the Bruins in the second round (52nd overall) of the 2015 NHL Entry. Bruins fans should expect to see Lauzon again at some point this season especially if more injuries occur. His game has translated well to the NHL and it’s clear he has the skills to be a quality defenseman.

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Boston Bruins Prospect Player Profile: Jeremy Lauzon

LAUZON

(Photo Courtesy of the Boston Bruins)

By Tim Richardson | Follow Me On Twitter @TimARichardson

Jeremy Lauzon was drafted in the second round (52nd overall) in the 2015 NHL Draft. When drafted, the QMJHL product was billed as a strong two-way defenseman who could contribute anywhere on the ice. This at the time filled an area of need for the Bruins who had an aging defense and needed to replenish the prospect pool. He was even drawing a comparison to a top 4 defenseman, Marco Scandella. Now that we know some of the reasons why the Bruins drafted the Val-d’Or, Quebec native, let’s see what he’s done since.  

The 2015-16 season was Lauzon’s first since being drafted by the Bruins and it was his third year with the QJMHL’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. The veteran Husky was looking to prove why the Bruins drafted him in the second round, and he did just that. In 46 games the big blue-liner did not disappoint netting 10 goals while tallying an eye-popping 40 assists for 50 total points and a +/- rating of +40. To top it off, the second round pick lit up the scoresheet in the team’s 9 playoff games netting 1 goal and dishing 8 assists for 9 total points and a rating of +9. This helped lead the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies to the QJMHL Championship. It was a marvelous season that proved the then 18-year-old was to be taken seriously as a prospect.  

Coming into the 2016-17 season, Lauzon was named the Huskies team Captain. The newly appointed Captain was looking to carry over last year’s momentum and have another huge season, but an injury led to some inconsistent play. Despite this, he was able to play in 39 games potting 5 goals and dishing out 23 assists for 28 total points and a rating of +25. The Val-d’Or, Quebec native, was able to pick up his play in the playoffs netting 5 goals and tallying 9 assists for 14 total points and a rating of +3 in the team’s 13 playoff games. Despite getting hurt, it was a good season where the young defenseman was able to display not only his defensive ability but also his ability in the offensive zone.  

Lauzon would turn pro the next season and play all of 2017-18 in Providence. The former second-round draft pick played in 52 games for the Baby B’s netting 1 goal and dishing out 6 assists for 7 total points and a rating of +1 all while being given the “A” on his sweater during the year. Providence would go on to make the playoffs that year, and in 4 games the young defenseman did not register a point and had a rating of 0. After the season the former Huskies’ Captain admitted that defensive consistency was still something that needed be worked on. However, he was able to flash signs of that keen offensive eye and great skating ability.  

After having a mostly successful first year with Providence, Lauzon was eager to start out the 2018-19 season on fire and show improvement in the areas needed. In 8 games with the Baby B’s, the young blue-liner netted 1 goal and dished out 3 assists for 4 total points and a rating of –2. With injuries piling up to the big club, on October 27th, the former second-round pick was called up to Boston. In 15 games with Boston, he found the back of the net once and hasn’t tallied an assist for 1 total point and a rating of –1. In the 15 game audition with Boston, the 21-year-old has looked good showing signs of improvement in the areas he needed and given some more seasoning down in Providence we could see him as a permanent fixture on the Bruins blue line next season.  

Being drafted in the second round can come with the added pressure of needing to be successful early on in the NHL. Despite this, the 21-year-old has flashed signs of elite play especially in big game situations like the playoffs. This is something that will bode well for Lauzon moving forward, because the Bruins expect to be contenders not only now but in the future. With a little more seasoning and refining of his defensive game, the young blue-liner could end up being very good for Boston. When all is said and done, I expect the former 2nd round pick to anchor the Bruins second defensive pairing for many years to come.  

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Boston Bruins Prospect Player Profile: Urho Vaakanainen

(Photo Courtesy of NBCSports)

By: Tim Richardson | Follow Me On Twitter @TimARichardson

Urho Vaakanainen was drafted in the 1st round 18th overall in the 2017 NHL Draft. When Vaakanainen was drafted, it was said, that he was not only the most NHL ready defenseman but also the best all-around defenseman in the entire draft. He already at a young age possessed elite skills as a stay-at-home defenseman. He was even getting compared to NHL Hall of Famer Scott Niedermayer. Now those are some giant skates to fill, so let’s dive into the player and see why he had such a lofty comparison.

The 2017-18 season was Vaakanainen’s first since being drafted. Being such a young player, he decided to stay in Finland and play for SaiPa of Finland’s top hockey league Liiga. This was important because one of the few major knocks on Vaakanainen was that he lacked experience. In 43 games with SaiPa Vaakanainen netted 4 goals while dishing out 7 assists for 11 total points and a +/- rating of +8. He also played in the teams 9 playoff games where he didn’t find the back of the net, but he did dish out 1 assist for 1 total point and a rating of +1. Overall it was a very successful season for Vaakanainen. The Bruins were very high on his defensive skills, and skating ability. So much so that they signed him to an entry-level contract, and he was slated to play the 2018-19 season in Providence.  

Coming over into his first professional season in North America there was some buzz around Vaakanainen.  Vaakanainen added to an already deep young defensive core and a prospect pool that included Charlie McAvoy, Torey Krug, Matt Grzelcyk, Jakub Zboril, and Jeremy Lauzon. Those guys are good and have a bright future ahead of them, but even with how good they currently are and could be Vaakanainen may end up being the best of the bunch. He possesses elite skills as a stay at home defender. To top that off he has great vision on the ice, is a mobile defender, and he’s also elite on the penalty-kill. His play is wise beyond its years. He doesn’t have any major glaring weaknesses either. A few things that the Bruins did want him working on was improving his shooting skills, and playmaking ability. These are things that can come with time. 

Vaakanainen impressed in preseason this season but ultimately began the year in Providence because of the depth the Bruins had at defense. How he did flash that defensive ability and showed that he was close to being NHL ready. Vaakanainen played in 6 games for the Providence Bruins. He registered 0 goals and 2 assists and a rating of 0. Even bigger than those stats, however, was the fact that he had 14 shots in those 6 games. Showing that he was trying to improve the areas of his game that the Bruins wanted him to. The Bruins were very impressed, and with early injuries to the defense, Vaakanainen was called up to Boston. He played in 2 games with Boston where he didn’t register a point and had a rating of -1.  

Unfortunately, in that second game, he suffered a vicious elbow to the head and got a concussion. He has been out since October 23rd. He has skated a little bit since, but there is no timetable for his return. It was unfortunate that Vaakanainen did get injured because even in the limited sample we saw he looked good. He looked like he belonged in the NHL. Ultimately, Urho Vaakanainen has shown a reason for us as fans to be excited. The Bruins have many young, exciting defensemen either currently in the NHL or waiting in the wings in Providence. A few years down the road the Bruins could have one of the best young defenses in all the league anchored by Vaakanainen, and that is something to be excited about.   

Connor Clifton Impressing In His first Stint With The Bruins

( Photo Credit: Tom Pennington/ Getty Images)

By: Jamie Gatlin    | Follow Me On Twitter: @JamieGatlin1217

So far this season the Bruins young defenseman have been tested due to injuries. Key players such as Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, and Kevin Miller have missed significant time causing the Bruins to rely on their depth. As a result, Jeremy Lauzon and Connor Clifton have made their NHL debuts sooner than many anticipated. While they both have performed well Clifton, has been a pleasant surprise. He has quietly been one of the Bruins best defenseman as injuries mount.

Coming into the season, the expectations were not high for Clifton. He was seen as a longshot to make it to the NHL after being signed as an undrafted free agent. When Chara, was injured Clifton was the only right-shot defenseman left on the Providence roster. His numbers were not overwhelming as in 14 games he had only four assists. Despite his low expectations, the former Quinnipiac star has not let others opinion define him.

Clifton made his NHL debut against the Dallas Stars on November 16th and set the tone early. Less than 13 minutes into his NHL career he got into his first fight with veteran Jason Spezza. The rookie made a statement showing that he will not back down from any challenge. Since his debut, Clifton has been all that the Bruins could have hoped for.

Through his first seven games, Clifton has yet to register a goal or an assist. Despite his lack of offense, he has been impressive in other ways. The rookie has shown confidence and grit while providing the Bruins with valuable ice time.  He is playing big minutes which reflects the trust the Bruins staff has in him. After being an afterthought, he has been critical to the Bruins of late.

As his solid play continues, the expectations will only rise. That could dictate just how long he stays on the roster. Kevin Miller will be out until mid-January however the Bruins will get a couple of key pieces back soon. Brandon Carlo could return this weekend, and Charlie McAvoy continues to improve. The return of these two will not only improve the roster but limit playing time for others.

In his brief NHL career, Clifton has played well enough to deserve a roster spot. He is improving every game and looks more confident on the ice. He has been shut down on the backend and played a career-high 24 minutes in the Bruins lose to on Monday. Despite his solid play the Bruins defenseman has continued to play with a chip on his shoulder.

While injuries have tested this teams depth, it has given players like Clifton the opportunity to shine. He has seized the opportunity and at the very least has made his mark. When everyone is healthy the Bruins, will have some tough choices to make. If Clifton can continue his recent play, then he could secure himself a roster spot something nobody expected when the season began.

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Bruins Give Update On Kevan Miller

boston-bruins-kevan-miller-10117Photo Courtesy of NBC Sports Boston

By: Garrett Haydon | Follow Me On Twitter @thesportsguy97

The Bruins announced an update to Kevan Miller’s injury, suffered during Monday night’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Miller was admitted to a Toronto hospital on Monday after sustaining a throat injury in the first period. The initial x-rays were negative.

 

Miller underwent a CT scan in the hospital which revealed a cartilage injury to the larynx, which was reviewed and re-confirmed upon his return to Boston. The Bruins announced that Miller will be out and re-evaluated in about five weeks. Miller had just returned from a broken hand injury last Wednesday that kept him out for about a month. Miller has played in only 11 games for the Bruins this season, totaling two assists.

Miller has played 296 games in his career, all with the Bruins and has 12 goals and 50 assists in his six years in Boston. The former Vermont Catamount was undrafted and signed an amateur contract with the Providence Bruins during the 2010-11 season. Miller made his NHL debut on November 21, 2013 in Boston in a shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues.

Miller’s injury creates more opportunity for the Bruins young defensemen to prove they belong. The likes of Jeremy Lauzon and Connor Clifton have done an admirable job so far and it looks like they’ll be getting more opportunities.

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Bruins Have A Lot To “B Thankful” For

Related image(Photo Credit: Boston Bruins)

By: Evan Michael | Follow me on Twitter @Evan007onTV

The Boston Bruins have not been on the gravy train lately, despite this week being as gravy-filled as it gets. Yet, even with all the injuries, all the setbacks, all the ups-and-downs & inconsistent consistency, they’re still fun to watch, competitive as hell and right in the thick (gravy) of both the Atlantic and Wild Card races — not bad when you consider the Thanksgiving Day demarcation line for playoff prognostication.

In short, the B’s have a lot to B Thankful for (as their annual Turkey Day festivities pictured above like to remind us), both on AND off the ice this season. And yes, that’s even WITH the recent Bergeron bad luck, Chara news and entire D-core sidelined for the better part of a month (with practically the entire P-Bruins roster playing in their stead). Here’s why:

On The Ice

As fellow Black N’ Gold blogger @phoneymahoney pointed out in a recent puck-poignant post, the team has truly “held things together” like none other recently. They’ve picked up points in a few games they had no business to, even getting some rookies on the score sheet with their first ever NHL goals (and saves).

The team has also kept pace in the yes-I-know-it’s-way-too-early-to-be-calling-it-a-playoff-race competition between the Bolts, Leafs and… I can’t believe I’m typing this… Sabres & Habs. What the Buffalo wings with Blu (Blanc et Rouge) cheese is going on!? Disgusting thoughts aside, the B’s are finding ways to stay in games and will need to continue to do so each & every contest if they want to stay in the playoff picture, which I think they will.

The B’s also have a coach who deserves plenty of “Thanks,” especially for his always candid & accessible interviews about player health, recovery, line-up decisions & more. There’s no greater test or challenge for a head hockey honcho than to constantly have a roster in flux, never truly knowing when it’ll be back to 100%. Bruce Cassidy has done a remarkable job keeping his players honest, motivated & committed to the team’s game-plan during this horrid injury stretch. And the fact they’re competing and not throwing in the towel on a nightly basis also shows you that the mutual respect the players have for him and his staff is palpable & purposeful. Both sides of this equation will need to stay constant if the B’s are going to stay afloat (in the gravy dish) throughout this holiday weekend and all thru the next one.

Off The Ice

When it comes to the team’s community work this time of year, you won’t find a more generous group of players, personnel & Bruins staff truly “giving back” in ways everyone can be thankful of and for. From Zdeno Chara donating pies to local shelters around the Greater Boston area to members of the entire organization hosting the 23rd Annual Table of Friends event, all associated with the Black N’ Gold have been gobbling up good tidings to those in need this Turkey Day season.

And when you see this kind of commitment to community on a consistent basis, it makes the play on the ice more forgiving during the tough stretches. In short, the B’s are a team you can root for indoors and outdoors, while playing the game and promoting it, during the thrill of an Original Six match-up or when matching up with a great group for a good cause.

I’ll take a helping of that not just every Thanksgiving holiday week, but every week. With a side of gravy, no doubt!

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