Bruins 2019 Prospects Challenge Recap

Bruins rookie camp

( Photo Credit: Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald )

By Joe Chrzanowski  |  Follow Me on Twitter @jchrz19

For the fifth year in a row, the Bruins sent a team to participate in the Prospects Challenge in Buffalo. This year’s edition split it right down the middle, finishing with a 1-1-1 record after three games versus prospects from the Penguins, Sabres and Devils organizations. I would like to say that it was a good opportunity for fans of the team to become more familiar with some of their prospects. Unfortunately, that was not the case, unless you were lucky enough to actually attend the Challenge in person.

That’s because the Bruins organization did not see fit to televise or stream any of the games. The Penguins and Sabres streamed the games locally, but most in the Boston area were unable to watch. Fortunately, the Devils broadcast the Monday game on YouTube, and it’s still available for your viewing pleasure. It would be great if the Bruins decided to remedy this situation going forward, but that’s a discussion for another day. On to the actual games.

On Friday afternoon the Bruins took on the Penguins, and the good guys managed to come out on top, 4-3. The game did not start off very well for the Bruins, with the team falling behind 2-0 after goals by Sam Miletic and Pittsburgh first-round pick, Samuel Poulin. Boston bounced back on goals from draft picks Jakub Lauko, and Jack Studnicka and camp invite Scott Conway. The Pens tied it on a score by Nathan Legaré late in the second period. Anders Bjork came to the rescue for the Bruins, scoring the game-winner on the PP with just two seconds left in regulation. It was a good showing for Bjork, who had an assist to go along with his goal. Jack Studnicka also had a score and a helper.

The second game was Saturday evening against the host Buffalo Sabres. The final score was the same as Friday, 4-3, but the hometown boys came out on the short end, despite a great offensive effort by C/W Oskar Steen. Buffalo opened the scoring on a goal by Rasmus Asplund. Steen tied it midway through the second period on a feed from diminutive camp invite Dante Hannoun before the Sabres scored three goals in less than four minutes. Two of the goals came from center Matej Pekar, a fourth-round pick in 2018. The Bruins closed the gap in the third period on two power-play goals, from Steen and QMJHL free agent signing Samuel Asselin. They had a number of good chances to tie the game in the last minute or so with goalie Dan Vladar pulled for the extra attacker. Unfortunately, they were unable to get the equalizer by 2014 draftee Jonas Johansson.

The final game was a breakfast tilt with an unusual 9:30am start time Monday morning against the New Jersey Devils prospects, including first overall pick, Jack Hughes. The Bruins dropped this one in OT, but I felt they were the better team for the majority of the game, particularly at even strength. Both regulation goals by NJ were scored on the PP. The Devils tallied the first goal of the game while on a 5 on 3 PP. I would term the calls that led to the two-man advantage as “generous.” The score came by Nathan Bastian off a tic-tac-toe passing play that goalie Kyle Keyser had no chance at.

The Bruins tied the game with less than 30 seconds to go in the first period on a Dante Hannoun goal (assisted by first pair d-men Urho Vaakanainen and Axel Andersson). Scott Conway put the Bruins ahead 2-1 midway through the second period. That was it for the regulation scoring until 8 seconds remained in the contest. NJ was on the PP (thanks to another iffy penalty call) and had the goaltender pulled when former Merrimack forward Ludvig Larsson tied the game. Larsson scored again, ending it two minutes into the OT, even though Boston had the better of the play and chances.

I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the play of Jack Hughes. It’s very early in his pro career, but I have to say, I wasn’t overly impressed. He’s a very good skater, extremely quick, but appeared to be forcing a lot of plays. He fanned on a wide-open chance that would have been the go-ahead goal in the third period. Then in the OT, he failed to make a pass on a great 2 on 1 opportunity. I have no doubt that Hughes is going to be a fantastic player in the league, but I can’t help but think he would have been better off playing in college for at least a year like older brother Quinn. He was overshadowed, at least in this one game, by forwards Jesper Boqvist (36th overall 2017) and Mikhail Maltsev (102nd in 2016) who both played extremely well.

As much fun as it is to watch hockey again, that’s not really the point of these prospect games. With Training Camp starting today, the idea was to get these kids some playing time before training camp and to allow the staff to see if they think any of them can make the jump to the NHL. In the case of the camp invites, the teams want to see if there are any players they should bring on board. I will be basing my observations primarily on the game against NJ. I watched the game Saturday night versus Buffalo as well, but the quality of the stream I found left a little to be desired.

There were no huge surprises, in my opinion, but a few players made good impressions. I’m going to preface everything that comes after this by reminding people that it was only a prospect tournament. Players that performed well aren’t necessarily going to be superstars, and ones that did poorly are not necessarily busts. My colleagues at Black N Gold Hockey are doing a fine job giving in-depth looks at these prospects. There is no need to rehash that, but let’s take a quick look at how some of those prospects acquitted themselves.

 

Forwards:

Most of the kids up front that impressed at the Challenge were the names you would expect. Studnicka (1g/2a in 3gp) and Steen (2g/1a in 3gp) each had three points to lead the team, while Bjork had two points (1g/1a in 2gp). Lauko only had one goal in three games, but played well and showed his speed. Bjork (in the little I saw of him) was moving well and looked strong, which was to be expected given the experience advantage he has over the other prospects. There were few unheralded kids that I thought played well also. Scott Conway and Tommy Marchin, who both have AHL deals in place with PRO for the 2019-20 season were solid. Conway, who played his college hockey at Providence had two goals in his two games. Marchin, a Brown University product was held off the scoresheet, but every time he had the puck, he seemed to make the smart play, even if it was a just a cross-corner dump-in.

The player that surprised me the most this past weekend was an undersized wing, Dante Hannoun. He played his junior hockey for Prince Albert in the generally rugged WHL, and it showed. Despite being only 5’6″, and 165 pounds, he was fearless, taking hits and delivering some to much larger opponents. Hannoun was very quick, displayed a strong base, and was able to protect the puck well. He collected a goal and an assist in his two games and did not look out of place. He has not officially signed a deal yet, but based on comments from Bruins management, it appears that he will be somewhere in the system (possibly Atlanta).

On the flip side, a couple of kids that didn’t really stand out, in my opinion, were Robert Lantosi and Pavel Shen. Lantosi is a 23-year-old right shot wing who averaged more than a point per game in the highest Slovakian league last year. Shen, the Bruins 7th Round pick in 2018 looked a step slow. He was significantly better in the WJC’s this year for Russia, playing against his peers. It could just be that both Lantosi and Shen need time to get acclimated to the smaller ice surfaces and style of play in North America

Defense:

The prospect that stood out on the back end was definitely Cooper Zech. He had two assists in three games, but it was his skating and “escapability” that impressed me the most. He is calm with the puck, makes good decisions, and on the rare occasion when he doesn’t, he’s able to skate his way out of trouble. I think he is going to have a great rookie year in PRO and I’m looking forward to catching as many games as possible. Next up was Urho Vaakaneinen. He started off slow but seemed to get progressively better. Monday was his best game by far. He was very efficient on the defensive side and led several rushes into the offensive zone as well. He’s not flashy, but he moves extremely well and is very efficient.

It’s going to be tough for him to crack the NHL roster, but I believe he’s definitely the first man up in case of injury. Another guy I was really looking forward to seeing was 2018 2nd rounder, Axel Andersson. He only played in Monday’s game and looked a little tentative. The skill is there, and you can see flashes, but I think he just needs to be a little more consistent, which should come in time. Wiley Sherman was decent, but not really noticeable one way or another (which is not always a bad thing for a defenseman). Unfortunately, none of the camp invites on the blue line did much. On the positive side, as long as the contracts get done, the Bruins appear to have plenty of depth on defense at both the NHL and AHL levels.

That’s going to put a wrap on the 2019 Prospects Challenge. There was some good and some bad, but we will get a much better idea about what some of these kids are capable of over the next week or so as they hit the ice with the big boys at Bruins Training Camp. I’m not sure I see any of the guys from the Challenge roster breaking camp with the NHL team, but only time will tell.

Check out the Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 144 that we recorded on 9-8-19 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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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.

Please subscribe to our new Black N’ Gold Hockey YouTube channel! We’d really appreciate the continued support. Click HERE For Link To Our YouTube Channel!

Donnelly: Top-10 Bruins Prospects

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(Photo: NHL.com)

By: Patrick Donnelly | Follow me on Twitter @PatDonn12

Last month, Black ‘N Gold colleague Mike Cratty approached our team with the idea of coming up with our own lists ranking the Bruins 10 best prospects; you can find Mike’s article here.

One of the stipulations for the list is that the players had to be either unsigned or on entry-level contracts (ELC’s), so guys like Cooper Zech will not be included. Also, players such as Anders Bjork and Karson Kuhlman will not be ranked as Bjork has played over 50 games and Kuhlman seems like he has firmly established himself by now.

The Bruins’ prospect pool remains in good shape and is stronger after a solid draft class this summer. So, without further ado, here are my top-10 Bruins prospects:

10. Zach Senyshyn

The much-maligned 16th-overall pick in the 2016 draft, Senyshyn has not been able to make a meaningful impact in the NHL yet, but he was very impressive in his NHL debut last spring. He has not dazzled anyone on the scoresheet in the AHL after he lit up the OHL, but he has still been solid nonetheless. The 6-foot-1 winger has an incredible ability to shoot the puck and his blazing speed easily makes him one of the fastest skaters in the  Bruins’ system. The 22-year-old will push for a roster spot come training camp.

9. Trent Frederic

Frederic’s low ranking on this list is not necessarily a knock on him despite how it appears on the surface. The bruising center did well in his first full season with the Providence Bruins and wowed Bruins fans in his NHL debut where he beat the wheels off of Brandon Tanev. However, the rest of his stint with the varsity club was just ho-hum as he failed to produce much of anything on offense. The Wisconsin product definitely still has top-nine NHL potential and maybe even top-six, but Jack Studnicka’s continued progression as well as the addition of John Beecher have lowered his stock for me.

8. Jeremy Lauzon

Lauzon was certainly impressive in his brief stint with the big club last season and showed us a sneak peak of what could be down the road. A sound defensive player, Lauzon’s playmaking instincts in the offensive zone is another part of his game that stands out, especially when taking into account all the assists he racked up playing juniors (95 total). The 22-year-old certainly has the makings of a future top-four defenseman in my opinion, but the plethora of defensemen in the Bruins’ system will likely keep him out of a full-time NHL gig this season.

7. Kyle Keyser

Since signing with the Bruins as an undrafted free agent, Keyser has been extremely impressive with his progression, shooting up the prospect pool rankings. After an impressive career with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL (highlighted by a .915 save percentage last season), Keyser will likely make the jump to the pro ranks this season with either Providence or Atlanta (ECHL). The 20-year-old has a knack for coming up with big saves.

6. Oskar Steen

Steen had a career season in the SHL last year as he transitioned from wing to center full-time. A sixth round draft pick in the 2016 Entry Draft, Steen ranked tenth in total scoring in the SHL with 37 points in 47 games. The speedy forward is a crafty player with a blistering shot that looks NHL-caliber already and was easily the most impressive skater at the Bruins’ latest Development Camp earlier this summer. It looks as if Steen will transition to the North American ice this season and play with Providence, which will serve him well in his adjustment to a slightly different style of play, considering his smaller frame.

5. Axel Andersson

Andersson has all the tools to be a successful defenseman in today’s NHL between his skating and puck-moving abilities. A shifty player on the backend, Andersson still has some developing to do, considering his small-ish frame (6-feet, 179 pounds). If he plays for Moncton of the QMJHL this season, a full year of experiencing the North American game will do him a world of good.

4. Jakub Lauko

Lauko has the tools of the trade to become a top-six winger down the road. After a strong showing in training camp and pre-season last fall, the winger went on to have a strong year in the QMJHL. Lauko’s shot, speed, and ability to control the puck while at full speed are the shining elements of his game. He’ll look to build on his success with another strong showing at camp this fall.

3. John Beecher

The Bruins’ first round pick this year, Beecher boasts gobs of potential. The thing that stands out the most for Beecher is his speed; he can skate like the wind. Not to mention the fact that he has size and knows how to use it, playing a powerful, heavy style of play. The Elmira, New York native is committed to play at the University of Michigan this season where he’ll get to work on his offensive creativity and scoring touch, which he did not flash off on a consistent basis.

2. Jack Studnicka

After lighting up the OHL over the last few seasons, Studnicka will make the jump to the pro game full-time this season. The center will likely begin with AHL Providence in my opinion, but you never know, especially given the Bruins’ situation at right wing, which the former second round pick can also play.

Studnicka boasts top-notch, high-end skill in all three zones and looks as if he has the potential to be a future top-six center in the NHL. The crafty Windsor, Ontario native has had his sights set on a spot on an NHL roster spot each time he’s been to training camp, and his goal will be no different this year.

1. Urho Vaakanainen

The 18th-overall pick in 2017, Vaakanainen is far and away the Bruins’ best defense prospect, and good enough to take the top spot on my list. The left-shot defender is not going to “wow” anyone with gaudy offensive numbers; however, his strong skating ability and the way he is able to move the puck up ice with ease is what intrigues me the most about Vaakanainen.

The 20-year-old Finn will push hard for a spot on the opening night roster after an impressive year in Providence (although it was somewhat derailed after he sustained a concussion in his second NHL game after being called up). The only thing standing between Vaakanainen and a spot on the NHL roster is the logjam the Bruins currently have on defense; top-four potential is there for sure, maybe even top-two.

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

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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

Cratty: Top-10 Bruins Prospects

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(Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

By Mike Cratty | Follow me on Twitter @Mike_Cratty

The Bruins’ prospect core is looking pretty solid after the 2019 NHL Draft. This list includes players on ELC’s, so a player like Cooper Zech will not be included because he is on an AHL contract.

Additionally, I will not include Anders Bjork and Karson Kuhlman on this list as Bjork, despite still being on an ELC, has played 50 NHL games. Karson Kuhlman has pretty safely established himself as an NHL player, in my opinion. With all of that on the table, here are my top-10 Bruins prospects right now.

1. Urho Vaakanainen

At number one stands the top defensive prospect in the system. The 18th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, Urho Vaakanainen absolutely the potential to be a top-pairing NHL defenseman. Currently, the defensive core is crowded, but Vaakanainen will carve out an important defensive role sometime in the near future.

His ability to clean things up in his own zone and dictate the play from the back end through the neutral zone is at a high level. Defensemen who can do that thrive in today’s NHL. Offense isn’t his strongest suit, but his skating and puck-moving abilities allow him to find his teammates with ease for scoring chances. This combination of skills puts him at the top of the Bruins prospect core in my eyes.

Check out this heads up assist by Vaakanainen in the AHL this past January.

2. Jack Studnicka

Deciding between Jack Studnicka and John Beecher at number two was tough. But, I gave Studnicka the edge because of what he has proven in the past. Beecher proved himself to be worthy of first-round consideration behind a crop of high-end U.S. NTDP forwards this past season, but I think there is still potential to be unlocked in the future at the University of Michigan.

Studnicka possesses high-end skills in all three zones, especially in the offensive zone. His well-rounded game allowed him to thrive in the OHL with the Oshawa Generals and the Niagara IceDogs. The top-six center potential is definitely there. After lighting it up in Juniors, his sights are now set on an NHL roster spot.

Oh yeah, and he has some sick hands and finishing ability.

3. John Beecher

John Beecher has a great blend of size and speed down as a centerman. Here’s an example from yesterday at the World Junior Summer Showcase.

That combination of size and speed gives him the potential to be a deadly second-line center down the road. Said combination also makes him a menace for defenders to contain. His time at the University of Michigan in the future will only do good things for his game and makes him a very intriguing prospect.

4. Jakub Lauko

When I see Jakub Lauko, I think of Brad Marchand. They both possess high-end offensive ability as left-wingers and plenty of nastiness in their game. Lauko plays a high-energy style and has excellent puck skills. He absolutely has top-six forward upside. When he was drafted, he said he wanted to prove he was the steal of the 2018 draft at 77th overall. He’s also not afraid to show off his personality.

He was a true impact player for Rouyn-Noranda in their Memorial Cup Championship run this past season.

5. Axel Andersson

Axel Andersson is a right-handed defenseman with a powerful skating stride and solid puck skills, qualifying himself as another defenseman that really fits the mold of today’s premier NHL defenseman. He still needs some time to develop, but he projects as a top-4 defenseman. Here’s a glimpse of what he can make happen with those puck skills.

6. Oskar Steen

Everything Oskar Steen does, he does with blazing speed. He’s a very quick skater, smooth puck handler, and has an NHL shot already. His smaller frame doesn’t phase him when it comes to getting in the corners. He’s just a tough player to contain, and he’ll fight for a roster spot with the Bruins this season.

Below you’ll see Steen make a great read on a loose puck and show off that NHL shot he already possesses.

7. Jeremy Lauzon

Jeremy Lauzon gave us a quick glimpse at what he can do in a short, 16-game NHL stint this past season. He moves the puck effectively, is stout defensively, and can hold his own in the offensive zone. While the Bruins defensive core is fairly crowded at the moment, Lauzon still holds the potential to be a second or third pairing NHL defenseman.

Below you’ll find a clip of an electric goal Lauzon scored for Team Canada in the 2017 World Junior Championships.

8. Jeremy Swayman

The first goalie on the list is Jeremy Swayman of the University of Maine. What sticks out with Swayman is his athleticism and quickness. His movement in the crease is very smooth and allows him to make tough saves. Of the Bruins’ goalie prospects, he possesses the highest NHL upside in my eyes.

Below you’ll find a glimpse of that high-end athleticism and quickness on display against Quinnipiac from 2017.

9. Zachary Senyshyn

Zachary Senyshyn is another player who will fight for an NHL roster spot this season. He has a past history of being a pure goal scorer in part thanks to his excellent shooting ability. Don’t let the fact that he hasn’t lit up the score sheet in the AHL take away from his potential to be a legitimate goal scorer.

10. Kyle Keyser

Kyle Keyser also possesses some great athleticism and quickness in the crease and rounds out the top-10. He was acquired as a diamond in the rough undrafted free agent signing and is now set to spend this season with the Providence Bruins and possibly the Atlanta Gladiators.

He has a thing for sprawling saves.

The Bruins prospect core is doing just fine, which is nice reassurance to have with an already proven cup contending team.

Next Man Up: Zdeno Chara Status Uncertain for Bruins in SCF Game 5

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( Photo Credit: wcvb.com )

By: Yanni Latzanakis  |  Follow Me On Twitter:  @yanlatz

As the Bruins and Blues prepare for a pivotal game five in the Stanley Cup Finals, the Boston Bruins could be without their captain. In game four at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Zdeno Chara took a puck to the face in the second period that prevented him from returning to the game. Now, Bruce Cassidy and the Bruins might have to adjust to missing their leader for a big game of a tied Stanley Cup Final series.

Just three minutes into the second period of game four, the Bruins lost their captain after Brayden Schenn rifled a shot that ramped off of Chara’s defending stick and into his mouth area. Chara would leave for the second period, and the Bruins were again down to five defensemen much like game two in which they lost in overtime. At the start of the third period, Chara was on the Bruins bench with a full shield on, leading many to believe that the monster defenseman would play. However, he did not touch the ice besides in between TV timeouts to rally up his troops. It was later revealed by Cassidy that Chara was advised not to play as he was “very uncomfortable” but wanted to sit on the bench to be there for his teammates.

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After Ryan O’Reilly buried a late third-period game-winning goal that would ultimately tie the Stanley Cup Finals series at two games apiece, worry crept into Bruins fans’ minds about the status of the Bruins captain. On Tuesday, it was reported that Zdeno Chara broke his jaw as a result and he ultimately missed practice on Wednesday at TD Garden. At the conclusion of Bruins practice, Cassidy spoke about Chara’s facial injury and that it was not a good sign that Zee was not on the ice on Wednesday.

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So, all signs are pointing to Big Zee potentially being out for at least game five in this series. That leaves Bruce Cassidy with some very tough decisions heading into arguably the biggest game of the series and the season for both the Bruins and the Blues. With Grzelcyk going down after a hard hit from Oskar Sundqvist in game two, John Moore was called on to step in and replace Grzelcyk on the blue line. The next man up that we have seen step up in these playoffs would be Steven Kampfer. However, Cassidy has second-guessed the insertion of Kampfer because he is a right-handed shot and would throw off the right-left balance between Kampfer and Connor Clifton – a balance that is consistent with the rest of the defense.

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Another option would be for Cassidy to insert Bruins rookie standout Urho Vaakanainen into the lineup. Urho would solve the right-left shot balance as he is a left-handed shooting defenseman. However, this could be a risky move as Vaakanainen has only played two regular season games in the NHL.

The third option for Bruce Cassidy and his coaching staff is to roll eleven forwards and seven defensemen. This, of course, would mean that a forward would be scratched in order to make room for the seventh defenseman which would likely be David Backes as he was often the odd forward out in the earlier rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs when Karson Kuhlman was with Krejci and DeBrusk on the second line. The Blues have beaten the Bruins twice this series, and both times the Bruins have lost defenseman for a big chunk of the game when they lost Grzelcyk in the first period of game two and Chara at the beginning of the second period of game four.

On Wednesday, the practice lines looked like this:

Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak
DeBrusk – Krejci – Backes
Johansson – Coyle – Heinen
Nordstrom – Kuraly – Acciari
Moore – McAvoy
Krug – Carlo
Kampfer – Clifton
Grzelcyk – Vaakanainen
Rask
Halak

As of Wednesday, Cassidy stated that Grzelcyk still needs to be cleared which he is possible to get cleared tomorrow. It appears that Kampfer would play with Clifton in game five, but that will ultimately depend on if Cassidy wants to remove a forward and go with the seven defensemen, if Grzelcyk is cleared, or if Vaakanainen gets the call over Kampfer. Good news is that Grzelcyk looked well on the ice and that he skated with the second powerplay unit indicating that he is close but still needs to be cleared.

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All in all, Cassidy is in for a series of crucial tough decisions for the all-important game five at TD Garden on Thursday night. If Chara is unable to go for game five, the Bruins will undoubtedly miss his leadership on and off the ice.

Bruins AHL Affiliate: Providence Bruins 2018-19 Season Review

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(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!  

Bruins AHL Affiliate: Providence Bruins Week 27 Preview

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( Photo Courtesy of Providence Bruins / Flickr )

By Tim Richardson | Follow Me On Twitter @TimARichardson

Week 27 of the AHL season is upon, and with it brings the final three games of the regular season. The Providence Bruins skate into it 37-25-8-3 (85 points) and 5-3-1-1 in their last 10 games. This is could for fourth in the Atlantic Division and seventh in the Eastern Conference. With just three games remaining in the regular season the baby B’s magic number to clinch the playoffs is just one. This means, clinching the spot is just a formality at this point, and if the standings stay the same it looks like the Bruins would take on the Atlantic Division-leading Charlotte Checkers in the first round. However, before the excitement of the first round is here, we must finish the final three games this weekend.

The hockey action kicks off on Friday, April 12, 2019, when the Lehigh Valley Phantoms invade Providence, Rhode Island to take on the Bruins at the Dunkin Donuts Center. The exciting hockey action continues Saturday, April 13, 2019, as the Providence Bruins head on the road to take on a familiar foe the Springfield Thunderbirds at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. Massachusetts. Finally, the regular season wraps up on Sunday, April 14, 2019, when the Springfield Thunderbirds fly into town to take on the baby B’s at the Dunk. It should be an exciting end to the 2018-19 AHL regular season!

Friday, April 12, 2019, Providence Bruins vs. Lehigh Valley Phantoms (HOME)

The Friday match-up marks the sixth time the Bruins have faced the Phantoms this season. In the first meeting, Lehigh Valley beat Providence 5-4 with the Bruins getting goals from Karson Kuhlman, Cameron Hughes, Colby Cave, and Wiley Sherman. Meanwhile, goalie Dan Vladar was off his game stopping 21 of 26 shots in net. The second meeting between the two teams saw a much better result for the Bruins. The Baby B’s beat the Philadelphia Flyers’ affiliate 6-3 with the Bruins getting goals from Austin Fyten (2), Cameron Hughes (2), Ryan Fitzgerald, and Jordan Szwarz, while goaltender Dan Vladar was good in net stopping 18 of the 21 shots that came his way.

The third match-up was another tough outcome for our boys wearing the spoked P. Lehigh Valley beat Providence 3-1. With Providence getting their lone goal from Joona Koppanen with goaltender Dan Vladar continuing his solid road play stopping 17 of the 19 shots that were fired his way. The fourth battle between the clubs saw the baby B’s win 4-2 getting goals from Gemel Smith (2), Trent Frederic, and Joona Koppanen. Goalie Zane McIntyre was fantastic in net turning away 20 of the 22 shots that were fired his way.  The most recent match-up saw the baby B’s win 5-3 getting goals from Lee Stempniak (2), Zach Senyshyn, Peter Cehlarik, and Gemel Smith. In net, Dan Vladar played well stopping 19 of the 22 shots that were sent his way.

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms skate into the game 37-30-4-3 (81 points) and 6-3-1 in their last 10 games. This is good for fifth in the Atlantic Division and ninth in the Eastern Conference. Despite the fact they are on the outside of the playoff picture, this game will not be easy for Providence. Over the past five seasons, the Bruins are 10-12-2-1 against the Flyers’ affiliate including 5-5-1-1 at home. It should be a tough test for our boys in black and gold. There are a few keys to victory if the baby B’s plan on bucking the trend and beating Lehigh Valley. The first is getting a lead and holding onto it. The Providence club is 29-4-2-2 when leading after the second period, and the Phantoms are 26-1 when leading after two.

Special teams will also play a major key in who wins this game. The Flyers’ affiliate boasts the third-best penalty kill in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference at 85.3%. Meanwhile, the baby B’s power play is ranked sixth in the Atlantic Division and 12th in the Eastern Conference at 17.4% On the flip-side the Bruins have the second-best penalty kill in Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference at 85.7% and the Phantoms have the third-best power play in the Atlantic Division and sixth in the Eastern Conference at 19.0%. If our boys in black and gold can keep out of the penalty box, they have a good chance of coming out of the game with two points.

Saturday, April 13, 2019 (AWAY), and Sunday, April 14, 2019 (HOME), Providence vs. Springfield Thunderbirds

The weekend home and home marks the 13th, and the 14th 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 now-departed Martin Bakos and Jan Kovar, while current goalie Zane McIntyre looked much better stopping 17 of 20 shots in net.

The third game of the season series saw the Bruins finally break through and get a win beating the Thunderbirds 5-4. The boys in black and gold got goals from Mark McNeill, Karson Kuhlman, Peter Cehlarik, Jordan Szwarz, and Connor Clifton while Dan Vladar stopped 22 of 26 shots he faced. The next installment of the season series did not go according to plan for the spoked P as they fell to the Springfield club 5-3. Bruins got goals from Zach Senyshyn, Gemel Smith, and Jordan Szwarz. Meanwhile, goalie Dan Vladar was a little off his game despite facing a barrage of shots stopping 34 of 39 he faced. Part five of the season series was a good one for the boys in black and gold. The Bruins beat the Thunderbirds 4-3 getting goals from Peter Cehlarik (2), Trent Frederic, and Paul Carey. Meanwhile, goalie Zane McIntyre continued to play well as he turned away 19 of the 22 shots he faced.

The sixth part in the season series saw the Panthers’ affiliate beat the spoked P 3-2 in overtime. The Baby B’s were able to get goals from Gemel Smith, and Cameron Hughes with Dan Vladar giving a tremendous effort in net stopping 38 of the 41 shots he faced. The seventh showdown saw the boys in black and gold win 2-1 in a shootout getting goals from Karson Kuhlman, and Trent Frederic netted the winning shootout goal. Zane McIntyre was excellent in net turning away 23 of the 24 shots he faced. The eighth throw-down between the two clubs saw the Providence hockey club win 3-2 getting goals from Mark McNeill, Gemel Smith, and Zach Senyshyn. Goalie Zane McIntyre was great in net stopping 22 of 24 shots that came his way.

The ninth meeting saw the Thunderbirds win 5-1 with the Bruins getting their lone goal from Jordan Szwarz. Goalie Zane McIntyre had a rough game in net stopping 21 of 26 shots that were fired his way. The 10th battle between the Providence Bruins and the Springfield Thunderbirds saw the baby B’s fall 4-2 getting goals from Paul Carey and Emil Johansson. Goalie Dan Vladar turned away 28 of the 31 shots that were fired his way. The 11th chapter of the long season series saw the Bruins come out on top 5-2 getting goals from Paul Carey (2), Urho Vaakanainen (2), and Connor Clifton. Goalie Zane McIntyre stopped 27 out of the 29 shots that came his way. The most recent battle saw the Bruins fall 3-1 getting their one goal from Urho Vaakanainen. In net, Zane McIntyre was good turning away 20 of the 23 shots fired his way.

The Springfield Thunderbirds come into the weekend home and home series 31-28-9-5 (76 points) and 5-3-2 in their last 10 games. This is good for seventh in the Atlantic Division and 12th in the Eastern Conference. Despite having a rough season against the Panthers’ affiliate this year, the Baby B’s have played well against them over the past five years going 22-13-3. They also have almost identical records at home and on the road in that time frame. This bodes well for the weekend series. Defense again will play a major role in who wins this game. The Thunderbirds have scored 234 goals in the 73 games they’ve played this season which is 3.20 goals a game their problem is they’ve given up 233 goals in that time frame as well which is 3.19 per game and a goal differential of just one.

Providence’s defense, on the other hand, is quite good giving up only 199 goals in their 73 games which is only 2.72 goals a game. Their offense is no slouch either scoring 219 goals in 73 games which is 3.00 goals a game and a goal differential of 20. The other big key is again who had the lead after two periods. Despite their position in the standings the club from Springfield Massachusetts is 24-1-2 when leading after two periods and 1-25-1-2 when down after two periods. Meanwhile, the Baby B’s are 29-4-2-2 when leading after two and 4-20-3 when trailing after the second period. It should be an exciting game that you do not want to miss.

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

Hot

Paul Carey: Paul Carey has made his way into the hot category once again. It seems like he’s here every other week, but that’s just a testament to how well he’s been playing for Providence since being traded from Ottawa in early January. In 29 games with the baby B’s, the former Boston College Eagle has netted 21 goals while tallying 11 assists for 32 total points. That’s a point per game total of 1.10. That includes netting five goals and dishing out four assists for nine total points in his last five games. The two-time NCAA champion was so good this week he was named the CCM/AHL player of the week. Hopefully, the scoring continues as the playoffs come to a beginning.

Cooper ZechCooper Zech is new to the weekly hot or not list. Signing his first contract the second week of March, the young defenseman came to Providence by way of Ferris State. While a freshman at Ferris State, he led the team in scoring netting eight goals and dishing out 20 assists for 28 total points in 36 games. That’s a point per game clip of 0.78. In 10 games since coming to Providence, the 20-year old has not found the back of the net but has dished out four assists while playing great defense. This includes the nice little three-game point streak that he is currently on. Let’s hope he can continue his play through the end of the season and the playoffs.

Not

Ryan Fitzgerald: At one point during the season, Ryan Fitzgerald was the Providence Bruins’ best forward. You could have made the case that he deserved to be called up to Boston to get a shot with the big club. However, injuries hampered the former Boston College Eagle’s season. In his past nine games, the young forward has netted one goal while also dishing out one assist for two total points. Despite this, the season hasn’t been all bad. In 58 games, the 24-year old has netted nine goals and dished out 26 assists for 35 total points. Hopefully, the gritty forward can pick up his play as we head towards the playoffs.

Mark McNeill: Mark McNeill has been on a bit of a cold streak. The gritty forward started out by having a very good year, but since has dropped off a bit. The WHL product in 54 games, has netted eight goals and dished out 17 assists for 25 total points. This is a point per game total of 0.46. Despite this, in his last 22 games, the veteran has netted one goal and dished out two assists for three total points. This means, before the cold streak he had netted seven goals and dished out 15 assists for 22 points in 32 games. The Providence Bruins are hoping he can find the scoring touch again as we come to the end of the season.

My players to watch this weekend

Up Front

Gemel Smith: Gemel Smith has been excellent since being traded to Boston from Dallas in December. In 44 games with the Providence Bruins, the young forward has netted 15 goals and dished out 21 assists for 36 total points. That’s a point per game total of 0.81. As good as the OHL product has been overall, he’s been exceptionally good against Lehigh Valley and Springfield this season. In 13 games against the two hockey clubs this season, Smith has netted six goals and dished out seven assists for 13 total points. This means that 36% of his total points have come against these two teams. Hopefully, the winger can continue that hot play this weekend.

On the Blue Line

Urho VaakanainenDespite missing time because of injuries and the World Junior Championships, Urho Vaakanainen has had an excellent first professional season with the Providence Bruins. In 29 games with the Baby B’s the young defenseman has netted four goals while dishing out 10 assists for 14 total points. This is a point per game total of 0.48. This is much higher than his Finnish Liiga days of 0.21 (7-16-23 in 109 games). To top it off, the rookie has played very well against Springfield. In eight games against the Thunderbirds, he has netted three goals while dishing out five assists for eight total points. This means 57% of his points have come against the Panthers’ affiliate. Hopefully, the young defenseman can carry that play into this weekend.

In Net

Zane McIntyre: Zane McIntyre is another guy that has had an interesting season. On the year, the veteran netminder is 25-12-7 with a goals against average of 2.48, and a save percentage of .901. Mid-season the Providence Bruins went on an impressive point streak, and at the time neither goalie had really solidified himself as the number one guy. McIntyre was able to anchor the backend of the defense and do just that. To top it off, he has been a lot better at home than on the road this season with 20 of his 25 wins coming at the Dunk. With two of three games in Providence this weekend, look for him to be essential in the baby B’s success.

The Providence Bruins are currently sitting in playoff position by four points. With 3 games remaining the team’s magic number is 1. The magic number is the number of points needed to clinch the playoff spot. The magic number goes down when it earns points either with victory, or overtime/shootout losses. The magic number also goes down when the team with the highest possible point total that isn’t currently in playoff position, loses. This means the Providence club just needs to at the very least let one of the next three games go to overtime, and they will make the playoffs.

Now, hopefully, they can win a few of these last three games and gain some momentum going into the post-season. Unless the Bruins move up in the standings, it looks their first-round match-up will be against the Division and Conference-leading Charlotte Checkers, a team that the boys in black and gold went 4-3-1 against this season. We will catch up with you next week to let you know how the team fared but feel free to send any questions or comments to me on Twitter. I hope everyone enjoys the final three games of the season and Go, B’s, Go!

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Bruins AHL Affiliate: Providence Bruins Week 23 Preview

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Photo Courtesy of Providence Bruins / Flickr

By: Tim Richardson | Follow Me On Twitter @TimARichardson

Week 23 of the AHL season is upon us, and the Providence Bruins skate into it 31-22-7-2 (71 points) and 4-4-1-1 in their last 10 games. This is good for fourth in the Atlantic Division and seventh in the Eastern Conference. Even though the baby B’s sit firmly in a playoff spot, they could move up higher in the standings relatively soon. The Providence club sits only three points away from the fifth-place Toronto Marlies. With only 14 games left in the regular season, now is the time for our boys in black and gold to make their push towards the playoffs and climb the standings. This weekend will not be easy, the team embarks on a three-game road trip starting on Friday, March 15, 2019, and it ends on Wednesday, March 20, 2019.

The weekend kicks off when the Providence Bruins take their show on the road and invade the PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania to take on the home team Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Friday, March 15, 2019. The trip continues Saturday, March 16, 2019, when the Bruins skate into Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania to take on the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza. The road trip wraps up on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, when the baby B’s head north to Laval, Quebec, Canada to battle the Laval Rocket at Place Bell. With all three teams being below the Providence club in the standings, it has the potential to be a successful trip for our boys in black and gold.

Friday, March 15, 2019, Providence Bruins vs. Lehigh Valley Phantoms (AWAY)

The Friday match-up marks the fifth time the Bruins have faced the Phantoms this season. In the first meeting, Lehigh Valley beat Providence 5-4 with the Bruins getting goals from Karson Kuhlman, Cameron Hughes, Colby Cave, and Wiley Sherman. Meanwhile, goalie Dan Vladar was off his game stopping 21 of 26 shots in net. The second meeting between the two teams saw a much better result for the Bruins. The Baby B’s beat the Philadelphia Flyers’ affiliate 6-3 with the Bruins getting goals from Austin Fyten (2), Cameron Hughes (2), Ryan Fitzgerald, and Jordan Szwarz, while goaltender Dan Vladar was good in net stopping 18 of the 21 shots that came his way.

The third match-up was another tough outcome for our boys wearing the spoked P. Lehigh Valley beat Providence 3-1. With Providence getting their lone goal from Joona Koppanen with goaltender Dan Vladar continuing his solid road play stopping 17 of the 19 shots that were fired his way. The fourth battle between the clubs saw the baby B’s win 4-2 getting goals from Gemel Smith (2), Trent Frederic, and Joona Koppanen. Goalie Zane McIntyre was fantastic in net turning away 20 of the 22 shots that were fired his way.

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms skate into the game 30-26-3-3 (66 points) and 3-7-0 in their last 10 games. This is good for sixth in the Atlantic Division and 11th in the Eastern Conference. Despite the fact they are on the outside of the playoff picture, this game will not be easy for Providence. Over the past five seasons, the Bruins are 9-12-2-1 against the Flyers’ affiliate including 4-7-1 on the road. It should be a tough test for our boys in black and gold. There are a few keys to victory if the baby B’s plan on bucking the trend and beating Lehigh Valley. The first is getting a lead and holding onto it. The Providence club is 24-3-2-1 when leading after the second period, and the Phantoms are 21-1 when leading after two.

Special teams will also play a major key in who wins this game. The Flyers’ affiliate boasts the best penalty kill in the Eastern Conference at 86.5%. Meanwhile, the baby B’s power play is ranked 14th in the Eastern Conference at 17.1% On the flip-side the Bruins have the second-best penalty kill in the Eastern Conference at 85.7%, and the Phantoms have the fifth-best power play in the Eastern Conference at 19.1%. If our boys in black and gold can keep out of the penalty box, they have a good chance of coming out of the game with two points.

Saturday, March 16, 2019, Providence Bruins vs. Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins (AWAY)

The Saturday match-up will mark the fifth time that these two teams have played each other, and Providence has had their way with the Pittsburgh affiliate thus far. The first battle saw the Bruins beat the Penguins 2-1 in overtime getting goals from the now departed Martin Bakos, and Ryan Fitzgerald (OT). Goalie Dan Vladar was superb in net denying 27 of the 28 shots that came his way. The second installment saw the Baby B’s route Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 5-2 getting goals from the recently traded Ryan Donato (2), Martin Bakos, Joel Messner, and Zach Senyshyn. Goalie Zane McIntyre was great in net stoning 20 of the 22 shots he faced. The third match-up saw the boys in black and gold win 4-2 getting goals from Ryan Fitzgerald, Peter Cehlarik, Ryan Donato, and Jakub Zboril. Goal Zane McIntyre was excellent in net stopping 32 of the 34 shots that were fired his way. The most recent match-up saw the Bruins lost 2-1 in a shootout getting their goal from Chris Breen. Goalie Zane McIntyre was superb in net turning away 39 of the 40 shots that came his way.

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins come into the game 29-23-6-3 (67 points) and 5-2-2-1 in their last 10 games played. This is good for fifth in the Atlantic Division and ninth in the Eastern Conference. The Providence Bruins have not only played extremely well against the Pittsburgh affiliate this year going 3-0-0-1, but over the past five seasons, the Baby B’s are 13-6-2-3. A major key for the boys in black and gold will be how their offense plays. The Penguins have given up a total of 179 goals on the year. Only four other teams in the Eastern Conference have given up less. Meanwhile, the Bruins have scored 188 goals this year which is the ninth most in the Eastern Conference. Hopefully, the offense is up to that task.

Special teams will also be a key in this game. The Providence Bruins are not only fourth in the Eastern Conference in goals given up with 173, but they are also second in penalty kill at 85.7%. That coupled with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton having the 12th ranked power play in the Eastern Conference at 17.3% means that if the spoked P can play their game and hold their ground, it bodes well for the overall outcome. Another major key for the Pittsburgh affiliate is whether they outshoot their opponent when they do, they are 18-13-2-2 but are 6-8-3-1 when being outshot. On the other side, the Baby B’s are 9-6-3-1 when being outshot and 20-14-4-1 when outshooting their foe.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019, Providence Bruins vs. Laval Rocket (AWAY)

The Wednesday match will mark the second time the Bruins take on Laval this season. The Rocket play in the North Division, so because of that they only play each other twice a year once at home and once on the road. In the first match-up, the Bruins fell 3-2 getting goals from Mark McNeill and Jeremy Lauzon. Goalie Dan Vladar was excellent in net turning away 31 of the 34 shots that were fired his way. The Laval Rocket come into the match-up 25-27-6-4 (60 points) and 4-4-2 in their last 10 games. This is good for seventh in the North Division and 15th in the Eastern Conference. Over the past five seasons, the two teams have not played each other very much because of being in different divisions, but the baby B’s hold a 2-1 record against the Rocket in that time frame.

Special teams will also play a major key in which team comes out on top. The Laval Rocket have the 15th ranked power play in the Eastern Conference at 16.9%. As I have stated earlier the baby B’s boast the second-best penalty kill in the entire Eastern Conference at 85.7%. On the other side of things, the Montreal affiliate has 14th ranked penalty kill at 78.5%. With the Bruins power play being the 14th ranked at 17.1% this would be a great chance to boost those numbers. Something that will be interesting to watch for is who outshoots who. The Providence hockey club is 20-14-4-1 when they outshoot their opponents. However, the Laval club has a better record when being outshot at 13-9-2-3.

Team defense will also play a major key in the matchup. The Bruins boast of the best defenses in the Eastern Conference giving up 2.79 goals a game. Meanwhile, the Montreal affiliate gives up 2.98 goals a game. Laval also has a goal differential of –21. That means they have given up 21 more goals than they’ve scored. The Baby B’s have a goal differential of +15. This game is going to an interesting match-up against two teams that are not familiar with each other. However, all the stats point to the Providence hockey club coming out on top.

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

Hot

Paul Carey: Paul Carey has been a scoring machine since coming over in a trade with the Ottawa Senators. In 21 games with Providence, the former Boston College Eagle has netted 14 goals and dished out six assists for 20 total points. That is a point per game total of 0.95. That includes netting six goals and dishing out two assists for eight total points in his last five games. The two-time NCAA champion has been playing so well that he was called up to Boston. Let’s hope the veteran forward keeps up his scorching hot play up in Boston.

Urho VaakanainenUrho Vaakanainen has been playing very well as of late. The young defenseman missed time earlier in the year due to a concussion, but he’s come back strong and is having a good year. In 28 games this year, the Finland native has found the back of the net four times and dished out 10 assists for 14 total points. This is a point per game total of 0.50. That includes netting four goals and dishing out one assist for five total points in his last five games. So far, it’s been a very successful first professional season for Urho. He made his NHL debut earlier in the year before being injured, he helped lead Finland to the World Junior Gold Medal after he returned from injury, and every part of his game looks NHL ready. Let’s hope the young defender can keep it up going forward.

Not

Ryan Fitzgerald: Ryan Fitzgerald started out the year having a fantastic season and was leading the team in points for a large part of the year. Injuries derailed what was an excellent season. However, in 48 games he has netted seven goals and dished out 24 assists for 31 points. This is a point per game total of 0.64. Despite this, over his past five games, the former Boston College Eagle has not found the back of the net and has dished out two assists for two total points. The veteran forward also has not found the back of the net since December 1, 2019. Part of that is due to injury, but he still has not scored a goal since coming back. With Carey called up to Boston, hopefully, the gritty forward can pick up some of the offense that will be missing.

Zach SenyshynZach Senyshyn has found himself in the not category a few weeks in a row now. That should give you an idea of how cold the streak he’s on is. Even though the young forward may be the most talented of the forward prospects, he cannot seem to buck this cold streak. The OHL product has not scored a goal since January 26, 2019. In his 14 games since then, the speedster has dished out three assists for three total points. Overall on the year, Senyshyn has found the back of the net 13 times and dished out 10 assists for 23 points in 54 games. This is a point per game total of 0.42. The Bruins will need him to bust out of this slump if they plan to go far in the playoffs.

My players to watch this weekend

Up Front

Karson Kuhlman: Karson Kuhlman has had an excellent first professional season for Providence this year. On the year the former University of Minnesota-Duluth Captain has potted 12 goals and dished out 16 assists for 28 total points in 55 games. That is a point per game total of 0.51. He has also recorded a point in three of his last five games for Providence dishing out three assists for three points in that time frame. The young forward has played so well that he earned a call-up to Boston and played well in the five games he played in. The Bruins need the former NCAA Champion to continue his exceptional play on this road-trip to make it a successful one.

On the Blue Line

Jakub ZborilJakub Zboril has had a very good season for the Providence Bruins this season. In 46 games he has found the back of the net four times while dishing out 12 assists for 16 total points. That is a point per game total of 0.34. This is a better scoring pace than last season, while also playing great defense. On top of that, he’s played well against Lehigh Valley and Wilkes-Barre / Scranton this season. In six games against the two teams, he has netted one goal and dished out three assists for four total points. With Connor Clifton getting called up to Boston, the baby B’s will need Zboril to play well on this road-trip.

In Net

Dan VladarDan Vladar has had an up and down season for the Providence Bruins this season. On the year the young goaltender is 9-12-4 with a goal against average of 2.75 and a save percentage of .901. Despite the up and down year, six of his nine wins have come on the road, and both of his shutouts were away from the Dunk. With the next three games coming outside of Providence, Rhode Island I would look for Vladar to have a big road trip.

The Providence Bruins climbed a single spot from eighth in the Eastern Conference to seventh last weekend.  With 14 games left on the Providence hockey club’s magic number is 27. Anytime our boys wearing black and gold win, the magic number is reduced by two points. The magic number is also reduced when the team with the highest possible point total, who also sits outside of the playoff picture fails to record a point. Once the magic number hits zero, your team makes the playoffs. With 28 total points left for the Baby B’s to grab each game is of the utmost importance. Look for the road-trip to be full of some high-intensity hockey. We will catch up with you next week to let you know how the team fared but feel free to send any questions or comments to me on Twitter. I hope everyone enjoys the games this weekend and Go, B’s, Go!

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Bruins AHL Affiliate: Providence Bruins Week 22 Preview

BruinsvsBears

Photo Courtesy of Providence Bruins / Flickr

By Tim Richardson | Follow Me On Twitter @TimARichardson

Week 22 of the Providence Bruins season is here and our favorite team in black and gold skate into the weekend 29-21-7-2 (67 points) and 4-4-1-1 in their last 10 games. This is good for fourth in the Atlantic Division and clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Despite this, only two points separate them and fifth place in the Conference standings. This weekend’s slate of games could not have come at a better time. The baby B’s have three games at home with two of the games coming against a team that is ahead of them in the standings. A strong week 22 could help the spoked P leapfrog a few teams in the conference as well as give them a nice cushion from teams trying to claw their way back into the playoff seeding.

The action-packed weekend kicks off on Friday, March 8, 2019, when the Hershey Bears invade Providence, Rhode Island to take on the Bruins at the Dunk. The weekend continues Saturday, March 9, 2019, when the same two teams battle it out at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center to find out once and for all which team is the better bear. Finally, the action wraps up on Sunday, March 10, 2019, when familiar adversary the Springfield Thunderbirds swoop into town to take on our boys in black and gold at the Dunk. It is going to be an exciting, jam-packed three days of hockey that you will not want to miss.

Friday, March 8, 2019, (HOME) and Saturday, March 9, 2019, (HOME) Providence Bruins vs. Hershey Bears

The Friday and Saturday games will mark the fourth and fifth times that Providence has played Hershey this season. In the first meeting between the two clubs, the Baby B’s beat the Washington Capitals’ affiliate 6-2 with the Bruins getting goals from Jordan Szwarz (2), Cameron Hughes, Anton Blidh, Kyle Cumiskey, and Tanner Pond while goalie Zane McIntyre looked great in net stopping 19 of 21 shots he faced. The second meeting saw the Providence club win 4-1 getting goals from the now departed Cody Goloubef (2), Karson Kuhlman, and Mark McNeill. Goalie Zane McIntyre was excellent in net turning away 23 of the 24 shots that were fired his way. The third battle saw the Bruins fall 2-1 getting their lone goal from Karson Kuhlman. Goalie Zane McIntyre was still great in net stopping 17 of the 19 shots that were sent his way.

The Hershey Bears skate into the weekend 32-22-1-3 (68 points) and 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. This is good for third in the Atlantic Division and sixth in the Eastern Conference. Despite being ahead of the baby B’s in the standings, the Capitals’ affiliate could be the perfect opponent to start a win streak against. Over the past five seasons, Providence is 13-7-2-1 against Hershey going 8-2 at the Dunk in that time frame. With both games being at home this bodes well for our boys in black and gold. There are a few keys to the game that if the spoked P can control, they will likely come out on top in both games.

The first key is who is leading after the first and second periods. Hershey is 18-3-0-2 when they are ahead after the first period of action. They are also 24-1-1-2 when leading after two. Meanwhile, when down after one their records dips to 4-12-0-1 and when trailing after the second it falls even further to 5-19. On the other side, the Providence Bruins are 13-5-3 when ahead after the first period and 23-3-2-1 when they are leading after two. When trailing after one, their record dips to 5-14-2 and when down after two periods it dips even further to 4-17-2. Getting a lead early and holding onto it will be a major key into winning both games.

The other major key to the game will be team defense. The Providence Bruins have one of the best defenses in the entire Eastern Conference ranked third in goals against with 165 in their 59 games played. This means they are giving up 2.79 goals a game. On the other side of things, the Hershey Bears are ranked sixth in the Eastern Conference in goals against with 171 in their 58 games played. This is 2.94 goals given up per game. The big difference is that despite their record, the Capitals’ affiliate has a goal differential of –15. This means they’ve given up 15 more goals than they’ve scored on the season. To give you an idea of just how bad that is the baby B’s differential is +25. A combination of the Bruins’ stingy defense and the Bears’ mediocre offense bodes well for our boys in black and gold this weekend.

Sunday, March 10, 2019, Providence Bruins vs. Springfield Thunderbirds (HOME)

The Sunday match-up marks the 12th 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 now-departed Martin Bakos and Jan Kovar, while current goalie Zane McIntyre looked much better stopping 17 of 20 shots in net.

The third game of the season series saw the Bruins finally break through and get a win beating the Thunderbirds 5-4. The boys in black and gold got goals from Mark McNeill, Karson Kuhlman, Peter Cehlarik, Jordan Szwarz, and Connor Clifton while Dan Vladar stopped 22 of 26 shots he faced. The next installment of the season series did not go according to plan for the spoked P as they fell to the Springfield club 5-3. Bruins got goals from Zach Senyshyn, Gemel Smith, and Jordan Szwarz. Meanwhile, goalie Dan Vladar was a little off his game despite facing a barrage of shots stopping 34 of 39 he faced. Part five of the season series was a good one for the boys in black and gold. The Bruins beat the Thunderbirds 4-3 getting goals from Peter Cehlarik (2), Trent Frederic, and Paul Carey. Meanwhile, goalie Zane McIntyre continued to play well as he turned away 19 of the 22 shots he faced.

The sixth part in the season series saw the Panthers’ affiliate beat the spoked P 3-2 in overtime. The Baby B’s were able to get goals from Gemel Smith, and Cameron Hughes with Dan Vladar giving a tremendous effort in net stopping 38 of the 41 shots he faced. The seventh showdown saw the boys in black and gold win 2-1 in a shootout getting goals from Karson Kuhlman, and Trent Frederic netted the winning shootout goal. Zane McIntyre was excellent in net turning away 23 of the 24 shots he faced. The eighth throw-down between the two clubs saw the Providence hockey club win 3-2 getting goals from Mark McNeill, Gemel Smith, and Zach Senyshyn. Goalie Zane McIntyre was great in net stopping 22 of 24 shots that came his way.

The ninth meeting saw the Thunderbirds win 5-1 with the Bruins getting their lone goal from Jordan Szwarz. Goalie Zane McIntyre had a rough game in net stopping 21 of 26 shots that were fired his way. The 10th battle between the Providence Bruins and the Springfield Thunderbirds saw the baby B’s fall 4-2 getting goals from Paul Carey and Emil Johansson. Goalie Dan Vladar turned away 28 of the 31 shots that were fired his way. The most recent chapter of the long season series saw the Bruins come out on top 5-2 getting goals from Paul Carey (2), Urho Vaakanainen (2), and Connor Clifton. Goalie Zane McIntyre stopped 27 out of the 29 shots that came his way.

The Springfield Thunderbirds come into the weekend home and home series 24-24-6-5 (59 points) and 3-6-0-1 in their last 10 games. This is good for seventh in the Atlantic Division and 13th in the Eastern Conference. Despite having a rough season against the Panthers’ affiliate this year, the Baby B’s have played well against them over the past five years going 22-12-3. They also have almost identical records at home and on the road in that time frame. This bodes well for the weekend series. Defense again will play a major role in who wins this game.

The Thunderbirds have scored 193 goals in the 59 games they’ve played this season which is 3.27 goals a game their problem is they’ve given up 194 goals in that time frame as well which is 3.28 per game. Providence’s defense, on the other hand, is quite good giving up only 2.79 goals a game. Their offense is no slouch either scoring 3.05 goals a game. The other big key is again who had the lead after two periods. Despite their position in the standings the club from Springfield Massachusetts is 19-1-1 when leading after two periods and 0-22-1-2 when down after two periods. Meanwhile, the Baby B’s are 23-3-2-1 when leading after two and 4-17-2 when trailing after the second period. It should be an exciting game that you do not want to miss.

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

Hot

Paul Carey: Paul Carey has been very good for Providence since coming over in a trade with the Senators in January. Since the trade, the former Boston College Eagle has played in 18 games finding the back of the net 11 times and dishing out five assists for 16 total points. This is a point per game clip of 0.88. To top it off the two-time NCAA Champion has six points in his last seven games, netting five goals and dishing out an assist during that time frame. The veteran forward needs to continue his hot play if the Bruins hope to have a good weekend.

Jordan SzwarzJordan Szwarz has been great for Providence this season. The captain has found the back of the net 18 times while dishing 13 assists for 31 total points in the 52 games he’s played in. This is a point per game clip of 0.59. To top it off, recently he has scored five points in his last seven games netting three goals and dishing out two assists in the time frame. The OHL product is just two goals away from 20 on the year. Once he reaches that mark, he will be the fifth player in Providence Bruins history to have 20+ goals in three separate seasons. Be on the lookout for that.

Not

Zach SenyshynZach Senyshyn may be the most talented of all the Bruins forward prospects. Despite this, the young winger has proven to be a streaky player since coming to Providence, and right now he’s on a cold streak that’s as cold as the ice he skates on. The OHL product has netted 13 goals and dished out nine assists for 22 total points in the 51 games he has played in. This is a point per game total of 0.43. This is considerably less than his OHL days of 0.91 (114-63-177 in 195 games played). To top it off, he has scored just two points in his last 11 games dishing out two assists. He has not scored a goal since January 26, 2019. Hopefully, the speedster can find his offensive game and turn the corner this weekend.

Mark McNeill: Mark McNeill has had a good season for Providence overall. In the 46 games that he has played in the gritty forward has found the back of the net seven times while dishing out 16 assists for 24 total points. This is a point per game total of 0.52. Even though the WHL product has been good overall this season, he’s been on a big cold streak recently. He has recorded just two points in his last 14 games dishing out two assists. McNeill hasn’t found the back of the net since January 26, 2019. Hopefully, the veteran forward can turn things around and have a great weekend.

My Players to watch this weekend

Up Front

Gemel Smith: Gemel Smith has been excellent overall for Providence this year. In 31 games since being acquired from Dallas in a trade, the young forward has found the back of the net 12 times while dishing out 16 assists for 28 total points. This is a point per game total of 0.90. To top it off he has been especially good against Springfield and Hershey this season. In 11 games against the two teams this year he has found the back of the net three times and dished out eight assists for 11 total points. That means 39% of the points he has scored with the Bruins have come against this weekend’s opponents. Look for him to have a good week 22.

On the Blue Line

Urho VaakanainenUrho Vaakanainen has had a great first professional season despite missing time due to a concussion. In 25 games with the Providence Bruins, the young defender has found the back of the net two times while dishing out 10 assists for 12 total points. This is a point per game total of 0.48. This is much higher than his Liiga days in Finland of 0.21 (7-16-23 in 109 games played). As well as his offensive game is coming along, the WJC Gold Medalist’s defensive game has been just as impressive. He looks like he’s already NHL ready despite being only 20 years of age. Last weekend the young defenseman scored his first two professional goals. Look for him to continue his play and have a good weekend.

In Net

Zane McIntyre: Zane McIntyre has played well for Providence overall this year. At the turn of the new year, it was his fantastic play in net that helped solidify the backend of the Bruins’ defense. As good as his play has been, the veteran goalie has been better at home this season and been especially good against Hershey. In the three games against the Capitals’ affiliate, the netminder’s stats are 2-1 with a goals against average of 1.68 and a save percentage of .922. With all three games being home and two of them against Hershey, look for him to have a big weekend.

The Providence Bruins come into the weekend clinging to that eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. This weekend is the perfect one to gain some ground and pad their position in the standings. All of the weekend’s games are at home, and on top of that, the Providence club is playing teams they should beat. I would look for the Bruins to nab at least four of six points. This could help them leapfrog a team or two in the standings. Anything else would be a total loss for the weekend. We will catch up with you next week to let you know how the team fared but feel free to send any questions or comments to me on Twitter. I hope everyone enjoys the games this weekend and Go, B’s, Go!

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