Friday, April 30, 2010

As April gives way to May...

...We enter the final home stretch before the NHL draft takes place in late June.

The NHL playoffs' second round (conference semis) are in full swing, with the Bruins hosting the Flyers tomorrow afternoon on May Day (and no, Brad May is not wearing the winged P).

All three CHL leagues are in the throes of their championship series to determine who faces the Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL), host of the 2010 Memorial Cup.

And, at the end of the month, we'll have the NHL Draft Combine in Toronto, where 100 of the top prospects will undergo a whirlwind week of physical testing and interviews. It's an exhausting process for sure, but it's the last major event (not including the Stanley Cup finals and NHL Awards Ceremony) before the draft is held.

Amazingly, when the Combine comes and goes, we might not know who will meet in the Stanley Cup championship series.

That's the way things go with hockey, but it's hard to believe that tomorrow will bring us one month closer to the main event, where an important chunk of the B's present and future could begin to take shape.

Thanks for your continued interest and support of this blog.

Red Line Report: McIlrath better fit over Merrill for B's

Hello, intrepid draft watchers! Here's a post that is sure to get some Eric Gudbranson fans talking. More on him later...

Had a quick conversation with Red Line Report's chief scout, Kyle Woodlief today, and floated the possibility of Jon Merrill with Boston's second first-round selection by him, and he disagreed with me a bit on that one, even though he concurred that the Bruins will in all likelihood be on the hunt for a defenseman with the next pick after they tab Tyler Seguin (his words, not mine) second overall.

Woodlief believes that Merrill is closer to 20 or lower on talent alone as opposed to 17 (and 17 is not a lock-- Bruins will drop to 27th at least with the possibility of falling lower if they beat the Flyers in the next round and keep winning), and with the off-ice stuff, Merrill could fall closer to 30.

In his mind, big and nasty yet mobile Moose Jaw Warriors defenseman Dylan McIlrath is the better fit for the B's at 17.

"He's their kind of 'D'," Woodlief said of McIlrath, who was given the nickname "the Monster from Winnipeg" this year and fought a lot throughout the season, striking fear into the hearts of opponents as a game and willing combatant.

"I don't know that I saw a guy who fought with more relish and enthusiasm than McIlrath did," said Red Line scout Mike Remmerde, who is one of two scouts who cover the West for that publication, earlier this season. "A lot of his fights came as the result of big, clean hits in the open ice where guys were pretty much forced to challenge him because he blew up their teammate."

Think of McIlrath as a defense-version of Milan Lucic, who was taken by the Bruins with the 50th overall selection four years ago. Lucic had some known warts (skating), but some upside as well, and was a feared fighter who brought legitimate toughness and big hitting to the mix. Lucic is coming off of a down year, but has evolved into a fan favorite in Beantown. Like Lucic, McIlrath has some drawbacks-- he doesn't have the kind of skill level to project much on the offensive side of the house, but he is a good skater with nice top-end speed both forwards and backwards. His agility isn't the greatest, but his overall mobility grades him a cut above other defenders who are slow-footed and become a liability against teams with a lot of speed to the outside.

"McIlrath is what they (Boston) need, and in my opinion, he's a better defenseman than Eric Gudbranson, who had a terrible (under-18) tournament," Woodlief said, having recently returned from Minsk, Belarus, where the best draft eligibles (minus those late '91 birthdates and those players still competing in the playoffs) gathered to test their mettle in the last international competition before the NHL lottery in June.

Uh-oh. Red meat alert.

That comment is sure to get some people talking, but in fairness to Red Line, they haven't had Gudbranson in their top-10 all season. Most of it was due to injuries that set the Kingston blue liner back in the early going, and then a double-whammy of a bout of mononucleosis which felled Gudbranson at mid-season, preventing him from competing in the annual CHL Top Prospects Game in January. Whether you disagree with Red Line's assessment of Gudbranson or not, they've not had him highly ranked all year, though Woodlief admitted today that he was hoping to see enough from Gudbranson in Belarus to move him up into the top-10 for the May rankings. Unfortunately, Team Canada's putrid seventh-place finish left a lot to be desired, and Gudbranson's performance fell squarely in line with many of his teammates, who simply couldn't get it done.

"Part of it was that it (Canada) was such a bad defense corps; the players themselves weren't very good to begin with," Woodlief said. "But Gudbranson is not an offensive, puckhandling defenseman, yet he was forced into that role and playing 30 minutes a night, where he committed a ton of turnovers. It was bad."

Make no mistake-- Gudbranson will go inside the the top-10 come draft day, and is pretty much a sure bet to go off the board before McIlrath does. Woodlief himself has admitted as much. But, since Red Line is not in the business of being a mock draft apparatus-- their list is done the way an NHL team conducts business-- the towering Frontenac wouldn't be the guy if Red Line had its druthers. Instead, Woodlief said, you're better off going with McIlrath, who doesn't carry nearly the hype, but is one tough son-of-a-gun who will give you every bit of what he has, yet isn't being billed as a two-way threat the way Gudbranson has.

You may not agree with that assessment, but having covered the draft for a long time, I'm here to say that there's a very good chance that Woodlief and his staff aren't alone in thinking that Gudbranson is not what others are projecting him to be. The difference is-- Red Line makes their views public and open to criticism, whereas most of the NHL opinions voiced in the dark rooms where they hold their myriad meetings throughout the season leading up to the draft will ever see the light of day. At least, not on the record and with said scouts' names attached to them.

So, as the popular saying goes-- Flame on!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Out West, it's Tri-City and Calgary for the WHL's Ed Chynoweth Cup

The Western Hockey League championship series will feature the Tri-City Americans and Calgary Hitmen for the Ed Chynoweth Cup (yes, that's named after former Bruin Dean Chynoweth's dad, the longtime WHL commissioner).

The Hitmen's most identifiable 2010 draft prospect is defenseman Matt McKenzie, a no-frills blue liner who plays a safe and steady game. He competed in the 2010 Top Prospects Game back in January and didn't do a lot to stand out, which is probably a good thing. I'll have more from you on McKenzie when I can talk to some scouts about him.

The Memorial Cup host Brandon Wheat Kings made it to the semifinal series, but couldn't get past the Hitmen, so they'll be back in action in a few weeks for the CHL's flagship event. All that remains to be seen is whether the Americans or Hitmen will represent the WHL.

Mr. President, let's go to New Brunswick

When the St. John Sea Dogs defeated the Victoriaville Tigres to face the Moncton Wildcats in the QMJHL's President's Cup championship series, it set up the first-ever New Brunswick final.

Moncton was pretty heavily favored going into the playoffs, and that was back when the Wildcats had a certain Kirill Kabanov on the roster. However, even with the loss of the mercurial Russian, this team just has a terrific mix of veterans and youth, including Kelsey Tessier and goaltender Nicola Riopel. 2010 draft eligibles Brandon Gormley and Marek Hrivik bring a lot of skill and upside to the mix for Moncton as well.

For St. John, Russian forward Stanlislav Galiev is the most identified name for the draft on the Sea Dogs' roster. He's small, but an extremely fast waterbug-type player who is a deft playmaker but needs to work on his overall game.

Gormley is one of the top defensemen available in this class; a superb two-way presence and former top QMJHL draft pick who has a lot of upside. In some circles, he's right there with the more publicized Cam Fowler. Luckily for the Bruins, by virtue of their place at the table in the top-two selections, they won't be forced to make the tough choice between any one of Gormley, Fowler and Kingston horse Eric Gudbranson. Of course, that's assuming Peter Chiarelli doesn't figure out a way to trade up inside the top-10 to land one of the top defenders in the draft. While that's a possibility, it may be in the "too hard to do" block for the Bruins GM.

So, the Maritimes have to be thrilled with the way things have shaken out for these teams. We saw them face each other to close out the QMJHL season, so now, there's sure to be a much more intense rematch of two very skilled teams who match up nicely.

First blood in OHL final to Hall and Windsor

Taylor Hall continued to shore up his case to be the first overall selection in the June draft with an overtime tally in Game 1 of the OHL championship series against the Barrie Colts.

Hall used a sublime one-timer to put his team up 1-0, staking a legitimate claim on OHL playoff MVP honors in the quest to defend Windsor's 2009 Memorial Cup title.

I've said it before-- I don't see how the Oilers pass up Hall, even if Tyler Seguin may address more of a need for the Oil given their depth at the wing position with prospects like Jordan Eberle, Magnus Pajaarvi-Svensson and Toni Rajala to name a few. Hall is a larger-than-life presence in Canada right now, much like John Tavares was last season. He's been expected to be the No. 1 NHL pick since he burst onto the OHL scene three years ago as the second overall selection in the OHL draft in 2007.

A lot of Bruins fans seem to be coming around to the fact that Seguin is a pretty nice fit in the Hub based on what I'm reading on the internet, so even if Edmonton opts for him at No. 1, Hall going to the B's would be viewed with an uncanny buzz of excitement. Either way, the Bruins appear to be set. The only real questions to be answered now are what the team will do at 17 (or lower if they eliminate Philadelphia in this round and advance to the ECF which would drop them to the 27th pick and potentially lower depending on how far they go) and beyond.

I'm still of the firm belief that with multiple seconds, the team could attempt to trade into the top-30 for a third first-rounder if a player they covet is there. That will all depend on what happens in the draft.

I believe that defenseman Jon Merrill is a prime candidate to go with Boston's first-rounder if it is closer to 17, even if he's not necessarily a player I feel is the best option. There's no denying his talent, but he's brought an uneven effort and performance level in big games and will have some character concerns to address.

This becomes an issue in light of the recent news that a pair of Notre Dame players including last year's Anaheim first-rounder Kyle Palmieri and 2010 first-round candidate Riley Sheahan (whose stock really fell off after second-half scoring drought with the Irish) were arrested for underage drinking in South Bend. Now, boys are going to be boys, and underage drinking is something most of us did back in the day, so that in itself is not a mortal crime, but the fact that Palmieri, who ran into some off-ice trouble last year (and likely dropped his stock at least 5-10 picks) and Sheahan, who needs to make a great impression on NHL teams, would exhibit that kind of poor judgment to land them in hot water so close to the draft, is a mild concern. Again, I'm not about to sit in judgment of these two, but it just baffles me that individuals with so much going for them and so much at stake with a professional hockey career on the horizon, manage to put themselves in this uncomfortable position.

We see it a lot more with players in other sports, but for Sheahan, given his cold streak to close out the 09-10 season, he may have cost himself some big bucks with this arrest, especially if it drops him into the 2nd round. Palmieri, who allegedly tried to run from the police, is going to have some tough questions from Anaheim, who showed a lot of faith in him by drafting Palmieri where they did. At some point, you have to think that the team is going to tell this kid that he'd better get his act together or face severe consequences when it comes time to negotiate a contract.

Call me old fashioned or whatever, I guess I'm of the belief that these players need to hold themselves to a higher standard. You don't see Patrice Bergeron getting himself into situations like this, do you? At some point, teams have to take the talent and character into account and make the hard decision as to whether investing potentially millions into a person who lacks self-discipline and judgment to do the right thing and not negatively impact his organization is worth the risk. It's easy for fans, who don't have the ties to players that the team does, to give these guys a pass, but it's getting increasingly difficult for clubs to turn a blind eye to player foibles. I guess the point being-- if you can go with a kid who is going to keep his nose clean over the loose cannon, then why expose yourself to unnecessary risk?

Sheahan and Palmieri are teenagers who made a pretty typical mistake. However, these guys are not typical teens. So, how adversely this will effect them going forward will be interesting to watch.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Seguin wins Red Tilson Trophy as OHL MVP

Tyler Seguin probably will not be the first player taken in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in a little less than two months, but in addition to edging the odds-on favorite to get the call from the Edmonton Oilers, Taylor Hall, in the race for No. 1 on Central Scouting's final rankings, Seguin was also named the OHL's most outstanding player, earning the 2010 Red Tilson Trophy for his outstanding 106-point regular season with the Plymouth Whalers.

Seguin will be passed over by the Oilers because he doesn't quite have the flash and dash of Hall, nor is he viewed by the majority of rank-and-file fans as the favored one as Hall is. The Oilers and GM Steve Tambellini will face the same kind of pressure Garth Snow and the New York Islanders did a year ago, when the John Tavares-Victor Hedman-Matt Duchene debate was heating up. In the end, the fans, the New York media and perhaps most importantly, owner Charles Wang wanted Tavares, and it worked out for the team. However, at least after one season is concerned, the team would have been fine with either one of the other players the Isles ultimately passed on, especially Duchene, who is a Calder Trophy finalist as NHL Rookie of the Year.

There is no shame in Seguin falling to No. 2 if that be the case. After all, go back to the 1983 NHL Draft, and you'll recall that Pat LaFontaine's flash and dash earned him an earlier draft call than Steve Yzerman. Both guys are in the Hall of Fame, but, hindsight being 20/20, if the Islanders could do it all over again, which player do you think Bill Torrey would have opted for?

Seguin appears to have the goods and he's certainly got the credentials, so if he becomes Boston's "consolation prize" in all of this, then fans will get over it in record time. In the long run, he could prove to be the more complete and productive player over Hall. Either way, the Bruins are in a great position right now, whether they grab the reigning OHL regular season MVP in Seguin, or somehow come away with the surefire OHL playoff MVP and reigning Memorial Cup outstanding player in Hall.

If the Bruins end up with Seguin, then he'll be the first Boston player since Andrew Raycroft won the award in 2000 to cop OHL MVP honors.

Here come the Flyers

Hey, hey what can I say? I found some internet access and couldn't help myself after watching the Washington Capitals, the President's Trophy winners and No. 1 playoff seed blow a 3-1 series lead to the No. 8 seed, the Montreal Canadiens tonight.

That means that the Bruins get the No. 7 seed Philadelphia Flyers and home ice advantage next round, with the series beginning this Saturday in Boston. Game time is 12:30 pm. Also, Bruins in Philly means that I will be able to cover at least one of the games there next week. Good times-- the first postseason matchup between the two since they were the Big Bad Bruins and Broadstreet Bullies.

The Caps and their fans are living what the Bruins have had to endure all too often. Anyone remember 1984 and some holmes named Steve Penney? No? Then how about the Jose Theodore show in 2002 and 2004? Theodore sitting on the bench tonight in Capitals red while Jaroslav Halak stoned his team for the third straight game was oh-so ironic.

1 for 3o on the power play? Really, Bruce? Really?

Make no mistake-- the Capitals will be back, but they looked like a team that expected they would just win. Montreal outworked them and made up the delta in talent by cashing in on their opportunities. The Caps? Not so much. Montreal blocked a ton of shots in the series and the players paid the price.

Sometimes, you have to lose hard before you learn to win. Alexander Ovechkin will have to grow from this because he's an unbelievable talent. Too often, he tried to do it all himself, so he'll either reflect on this and elevate his game the next time around, or he'll have to start getting used to being second fiddle to Sidney Crosby.

"I thought we had a good chance to win the Stanley Cup this year," a stunned and subdued coach Bruce Boudreau said after the game, adding that he would have bet his house that Montreal would not have won three games in a row.

Well, at least his mortgage is safe (as is his job, I believe), but this one is going to hurt for a long time. Bruins fans know all about the gut-wrenching feeling that comes with a great regular season followed up with a first-round flameout.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Have a good week...Bruins Draft Watch on hiatus

I've got some Army business to attend to this week, and my internet access will be severely limited, so there won't be any blog posts until Friday at the earliest.

Thanks for reading the blog. I'll be back with some updates ASAP and as we get closer to the draft, coverage will ramp up even more.

As the characters on the excellent Spartacus: Blood and Sand television series that recently wrapped up its first season were so fond of saying: Apologies.

I shall return.

Hall, Spits down Skinner and Rangers...face Burmistrov and Barrie in OHL final

Well, in an epic comeback from being down 3 games to none, the Windsor Spitfires pulled a Boston Red Sox Lazarus act and beat the Kitchener Rangers at home in Game 7 today by a 4-1 score in the friendly confines of the WFCU Centre.

Looks like the Spits dominated, outshooting the Rangers 46-27. Taylor Hall didn't score in this one, but he had a huge series to get his team back in gear after they looked dead in the water a week ago.

Jeff Skinner's magical OHL playoff run ends with 20 goals in 20 games. If he's not a top-10 pick in June, I'll be stunned. Some folks don't think he can get in there, but I believe that one of those 10 teams who is starved for goals will throw in with the draft's first- or second-best pure goal scorer (you can always make the argument that Hall is the No. 1 guy). Hats off to the undersized scoring savant-- he's silenced his critics and has gotten it done at a level nobody has matched this season.

This sets up the OHL final between the Spitfires and Barrie Colts, who defeated the Mississauga St. Mikes in their Eastern Conference series, 4 games to 1. Alexander Burmistrov is a tremendous player and with Skinner in the rearview mirror, Hall now has another marquee matchup of a top draft prospect to go head-to-head against.

Hall, for his part, told me several months ago that the team he had the most respect for as a dangerous opponent in the playoffs was Barrie, citing the success that the Colts have had against Windsor this regular season. Hall saw this battle coming way back in early March, so hat tip to the young man not only for his 27 points in 14 playoff games, but for his foresight as well.

This is going to be a great series, so if you're in Ontario or Canada and you have access, this is a great opportunity to see some terrific hockey. The rest of us south of the border will have to wait for the Memorial Cup and whichever team wins the OHL, but if you ask me, I'd rather see this one.

Showdown in Windsor: Hall vs. Skinner

When the Kitchener Rangers took a 3-0 lead in the conference final series against the favored Windsor Spitfires, it was the Jeff Skinner show, as the diminutive scorer outshined his marquee counterpart Taylor Hall.

Since then, Hall and company have clawed their way back to a 3-3 tie with a Game 7 today for all the marbles and a trip to the OHL finals. The winner of this series will likely represent the OHL at the Memorial Cup tourney, as the Rangers and Spits have shown themselves to be the class of the league.

On paper, Windsor has the edge in talent and they certainly have all the momentum. Can Skinner will his plucky Rangers club to an upset?

We'll know the answer tonight.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

USA's "doomsday defense" and Canada's abject failure at U-18 tourney

In the case of the Team USA defense, the boxscore told the exact story, as this outstanding group of Americans recovered nicely from an opening game loss to Sweden to smother Switzerland, Canada, Czech Republic and Finland en route to beating Sweden in the rematch for gold at the World Under-18 Championship tournament in Minsk, Belarus.

I talked to one insider who was there at the two-week event and had a lot of great things to say about the USA blue liners, but was far less charitable when the subject of Team Canada came up.

"They (the U.S. defensive corps) were great, all of them," he told me in a conversation today. "This was the best (hockey) I have seen from (Derek) Forbort and (Jarred) Tinordi. Both were just massive and elevated their game when the team needed it."

He added that if Forbort is that high upside player, then Tinordi is your big, intimidating stay-at-homer, nothing more, nothing less.

Another USA defender who gained some notice in the tournament was Michigan native and Wolverines recruit Jon Merrill, who has been a bit of a controversial figure this season after getting in trouble earlier in the winter over an off-ice incident. Possessing the size, skating ability and hockey sense to be an appealing draft pick he'll have to answer for the concerns about his character at the NHL Draft Combine next month, but the source also noticed another troubling aspect of Merrill's play.

"He was great early in the tourney and dominated at times, but his overall play dropped off as the games got more intense," he said of Merrill, who has the look of a stud player in terms of the measurables, but is lacking in the things you can't quantify such as intensity and toughness. "With his size, he should play much more physical than he does. He has his moments, but I was a little concerned with the lack of toughness when the games were on the line."

Make no mistake-- although not a fan of Merrill on this blog space, I am also a realist. I believe Merrill will be a top-30 NHL draft choice come June, and he very well could be someone the Bruins target because of his impressive phyiscal attributes and skill set. He may prove the critics wrong down the road, but there are some red flags with him, too. Time will tell.

Adam Clendening, who is not eligible until 2011, was also a rock and two-way presence on the USA blue line. You can bet that he'll be a major subject of discussion in the Bruins 2011 Draft Watch blog as we get rolling next season.

On the flip side, Team Canada had a horrific tournament and no doubt could have used Tyler Seguin and Ryan Johansen, both of whom were still playing in their respective major junior playoff rounds when the squad was assembled in late March.

They had to actual play in the relegation round, and were dominated in all aspects of their 5-0 loss to USA to send them there. For the predominantly Canadian contingent of NHL scouts and other management types in attendance, their country's team was a source of embarrassment for the lack of cohesion, heart and execution they presented.

From Al Murray's selection to Guy Carbonneau's coaching, it was the kind of non-effort that could hurt a good many of them, including the heavily-hyped Brett Connolly, who apparently whiffed on a chance to impress future NHL employers with a poor overall showing.

"All will have to answer for it," said the insider referring to the members of Team Canada, who had better get coached up on how to respond to the queries that will be thrown their way at the Combine.

He declined to share any bright spots for Canada, instead reiterating his respect for what Team USA accomplished. At the center of it all was goaltender Jack Campbell, without whom none of it would have been possible.

"Even with how well that (USA) defense played, he was just outstanding and stood on his head when he had to," said the source of Campbell.

What is Boston to do in the second round?

Most futures watchers focus on the first round, and in Boston's case, the second overall selection as we get closer to June's NHL Entry Draft.

However, with the recent completion of the 2010 World Under-18 Championships in Europe, and with next month's Memorial Cup tournament looming, the second round draft picture is coming more into focus.

Now, given that Boston owns Toronto's first- and second-round picks, they could very well package that 32nd overall pick in the early second to move into the first round, which would give the B's three selections in the top-30. Now, if they stand pat, Boston is looking at picks at 32 and 47, so let's take a look at a few players who might be available to get the call there.

The falling stock factor.

Every year, you have at least one or more players who were ranked solidly in the first round all season, fall out of the top-30 for whatever reason. Sometimes, it happens because of injury, other times, it might be due to character concerns. And then there's always the inevitable overinflation that occurs via open source media and other scouting sources. "Lock" players in the first round turn out to be second-rounders simply because none of the NHL's top-30 agree with the public valuations of said prospects.

This year, the biggest faller is without a doubt, Russian winger Kirill Kabanov. The youngster had the misfortune of being compared to Alexander Ovechkin before the season began, and people jumped on his bandwagon, present company included. Unfortunately for Kabanov, he had an early season wrist injury (which was an aggravated wound from his previous season in Russia) that forced him to miss more than three months to have surgery. As if this wasn't enough of a red flag to take him where his talent might dictate, the teenager then got into hot water with his Moncton club for a series of selfish faux paus, which included missed practices, absences from the weight room during rehab and an unforgivable missing of the team bus to Halifax late in the season after he'd returned to action and every game he played was critical for him in establishing that he was healthy enough to warrant a first pick. Things came to a head in the first game of the WHL playoffs, when he took several bad penalties and was called out by his teammates, then benched by coach Danny Flynn and subsequently scratched and booted by his club.

Kabanov is definitely talented, but his immaturity has been his downfall this season, at a time when his wrist was already a going concern for teams thinking about investing an early pick on him. A lot of the fans out there who are politicking for Kabanov with Boston's pick at 17 or even 32 simply don't get it because they don't have skin in the game. To them, it's all about taking a talented player, nevermind the fact that if the Bruins were to do so, they would be on the hook for the invested money in signing and developing him (his skating needs work), dealing with his personality and demonstrated lack of maturity, and even ominously, his father, who hasn't gotten very nice reviews from a few of the scouts I've talked to who know him. All of this adds up to a player who is falling drastically out of favor and isn't worth taking any earlier than Boston's second second rounder at 47. And even then, depending on who is available, might simply not be worth the gamble.

In other words, Bruins fans are better off focusing on Alexander Burmistrov at 17 if they're going to get fixated on the team drafting a Russian. Burmistrov may not be as highly skilled as a fully healthy Kabanov is, but he's close. An outstanding skater who won over a lot of scouts with his hard work and character with the Barrie Colts of the OHL this season, if he's there at 17, he's much tougher to pass on because he's not damaged goods and comes off as someone who wants to be an NHL player and will put in the work necessary to get there, even if it means spending some time in the AHL. Now, he is Russian, and his obligation to the KHL team that owns his rights is still an issue. But, if Burmistrov and his handlers can convince the NHL teams who interview him of his sincerity, then he's the guy I think the B's are better suited to gamble on over the petulant Kabanov, who's played nowhere near the amount of games Burmistrov has. If Burmistrov somehow falls into the second round (highly unlikely) and is there at 32, then the Bruins picking him becomes a no-brainer in my view.

Other players whose stock has fallen off considerably and could be had in the early second round:

John McFarland, LW Sudbury (OHL)-- On pure talent, he's a top-10 candidate, but if my soruces are to be believed McFarland has burned his share of bridges this season with a lackadaisical, uneven season with the Wolves. The former first overal OHL pick two years ago showed terrific chemistry playing with Tyler Seguin last summer at the Ivan Hlinka tourney in Slovakia, but was mediocre and ineffective on Team Canada's relegation round entry in this month's under-18s. Still, if he is there at 32, he's one of those guys with the limitless upside that you maybe take that value pick/risk on simply because you hope that if he ever figures it out (the way Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry did after falling later than expected in '03) he could be an impactful NHL player. If the Bruins end up with Seguin at No. 2 overall, and McFarland is there at 32, the temptation will be there.

Ryan Spooner, C Peterborough (OHL)-- The bad news is that he's small and missed a lot of time with an injured collarbone. But, with Spooner's speed/explosiveness, offensive skills and character, he deserves to be a first-rounder, but may fall nonetheless. One of my scouting sources thinks that it is criminal for Central to have Spooner in the second round (39th) but he's not a bad value pick at 32, and he might even drop to 47. The Bruins like their players big and fast, and Spooner has just 50% of that equation, but he's a hard-working kid and losing him was a huge blow to the Petes' season. He's worth a look if someone doesn't surprise and take him at the end of the first.

Max Gardiner, C Minnetonka H.S. (HIGH-MN)-- Injuries and lack of footspeed have dropped this pre-season first-round fave into the second, but he's got very nice size, puck skills and upside. The Bruins are set up the middle, but again, it all comes down to value and best player available should Gardiner be on the board for the 32d and possibly even 47th selections. Remember, in Gardiner, he's set to go to play in the NCAA for a few years, so he's a longer-term developmental prospect with a potential bigtime return. So, even though his selection doesn't make sense for Boston from a needs standpoint, he's another wide-body with skill and strength who may appeal to them.

The meteoric rise factor.

Just as there are always those players who fall out of the first, there are those who start the year as third round or lower projections, but who simply play too well to be ignored and vault up to late 1st/early 2nd consideration.

Julian Melchiori, D Newmarket (CCHL)-- Tall and lean, the Ontario Jr. B product is one of the best-skating blue liners in the entire draft class. Raw, with a lot of developing to do, he rejected the OHL (Oshawa Generals) for the chance to go the NCAA route, and is currently committed to the River Hawks of UMass-Lowell for next season. An offensive savant, he's a prime puck mover /passer and power play guy who is rising on a lot of lists. He makes sense for Boston, even if he's more than a few years away from being NHL-ready.

Teemu Pulkkinen, RW Jokerit (Finland, Jr.)-- A European Jeff Skinner who is small and doesn't have the speed you want from an undersized forward, Pulkkinen had an electrifying under-18 tourney, leading all scorers with 10 goals and 15 points in just six games, including a hat trick in the bronze medal game over Russia. A wicked shooter who just knows where he needs to go on the ice to get into scoring position, he's kind of like Toni Rajala of last year, who tore it up in the same tournament, but found it wasn't enough to be a top-two round pick.

Justin Shugg, LW Windsor (OHL)-- Here's what one scout I talked to had to say about Shugg recently: "I love him. He's your classic up-and-down winger, but he works his bag off and has been so productive this season. He's got just average speed (not a bad skater), but he takes the puck to the net hard and has excellent hands. He's a classic underrated player who has the potential to be a lot more than the sum of his parts." There you go. Shugg may not have that speed Boston likes in its wingers, but he brings everything else in spades. Also of note, when Taylor Hall left Windsor to play in the WJC, Shugg became the team's offensive catalyst for the two weeks Hall was out of the mix, and then continued scoring when Hall came back.

As we get closer to the draft, there will be more potential second-rounders I'll address, but for now, that gives you a good start.

Friday, April 23, 2010

He's golden

Goaltender Jack Campbell is anything but soup.

One year ago, he backstopped Team USA to a World Under-18 gold medal on home soil at age 17. Exactly one year later, he did it again in Belarus. And in between, he came up huge against Team Canada to help USA to only its second gold medal ever at the World Junior Championship (Under-20) tourney in Saskatoon.

As if his size and athleticism wasn't already reason enough to have him solidly inside the first round of next June's NHL draft, the fact that he's the biggest winner for USA Hockey in history is going to count for an awful lot.

Goalies are tough to project...six years ago, Al Montoya was the guy in the U.S. nets when his team won its first gold at the WJC in Finland. He went top-10 (sixth) in the 2004 NHL draft to the New York Rangers and ended up being a bust.

Campbell could bring similar risk, but after having seen him play this season, I don't think too many teams will pass him up. He has that rare combination of ability and poise. 13 consecutive periods of shutout hockey is impressive in any league because of the focus, pure concentration, execution and yes, luck it requires. But to do it on the world stage? Repeatedly? Against the best competition in your global peer group?

Unheard of.

In fact, one NHL insider at the tournament told me today that Campbell was "freakishly good" and that he's a lock to go inside the top-15, if not the top-10.

The Port Huron, Michigan native was slated to attend the University of Michigan in the fall (ironically-- the same school Montoya attended), but shifted gears and committed to the OHL's Windsor Spitfires instead. Looks like Warren Rychel and Bob Boughner knew exactly what they were doing with this kid when they woo'd him away from Red Berenson and the Wolverines.

I don't have a crystal ball to be able to look ahead five years to see if Campbell will be as good as advertised, but it's hard to believe given his amazing play in high-pressure situation after high-pressure situation over the last 365 days that he won't be a real gamer at the NHL level one day.

In just two weeks, Campbell vaulted over Calvin Pickard to be the goaltender who will be picked first in 2010. And with the way he's played, he could very well be the highest netminder picked since Carey Price went fifth overall to Montreal in 2005.

USA gets gold at under-18s!!!!

They did it!

Back-to-back gold medals for Team USA in the World Under-18s for the second time in USA Hockey history! (h/t to the individual who pointed out to me that USA did it in 2005 and 2006 as well)

2010 first-rounder Jack Campbell's unheard of u-18 shutout string of 13 periods without allowing a goal came to an end at 16:54 of the third period, but USA held on for a 3-1 victory. After losing 4-2 to the Swedes to open the tourney, Campbell allowed just two more goals in his next five games, going 5-0 and finishing with an eye-popping 0.83 GAA and .965 save percentage. He made 33 saves on 34 shots after facing just 25 shots combined in his previous two starts.

And I don't need to remind you that he did this against some of the best competition in the world for his age group.

Rocco Grimaldi gave the U.S. a 3-0 lead, Ludvig Rensfeldt (more on him later) got Sweden on the board.

No points for Johan Larsson means that Teemu Pulkkinen led the tournament in scoring with 15 points in 6 games.

A hearty congratulations to USA head coach Kurt Kleindendorst and his staff to say nothing of the players for going over there with a purpose, a system and high degree of execution to give USA Hockey the most successful year of amateur hockey in history.

To recap: 2009 World Under-18 Championship gold, 2010 World Junior (Under-20) Championship gold, 2010 Under-17 Championship gold, and 2010 World Under-18 gold. If the U.S. had gotten the bounce in OT instead of Sidney Crosby and Canada, we'd be looking at a complete running of the table in hockey by USA in 2010.

Campbell is the most decorated U.S. goalie in amateur history, and his draft status will reflect that fact in June.

More on this tournament later, as I can get insights and notes from scouts in attendance. Will probably take a couple of days at least, but hang in there.

From what I can gather, Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson, an odds-on favorite for the top selection in the 2011 NHL draft, had a poor game. He finished the game a -2 with no points. Oh well-- good learning experience for the 17-year-old, and he at least comes away with a silver medal.

Pulkkinen hatty keys Finland to bronze, USA up 2-0 in GMG (in progress)

Teemu Pulkkinen scored his 8th, 9th and 10th goals of the tournament in a sound 5-1 thrashing of Russia in the bronze medal game of the World Under-18 Championship in Minsk, Belarus today.

Also, Mikael Granlund posted a goal and two assists to close out the tournament with 13 points. Pulkkinen leads the tourney with 10 goals and 15 points in six games.

Finland was a very good offensive team, which makes Jack Campbell's shutout (and the play of his defense in front of him in limiting them to just 14 shots) all the more remarkable.

Russia mailed it in and apparently gooned it up at the end according to the box score.

The gold medal game between USA and Sweden is underway, with USA up 1-0 (Luke Moffat from Derek Forbort and Rocco Grimaldi), but apparently, Sweden's Henri Snäll took a vicious hit from Austin Watson that earned the power forward prospect a five-minute major and game misconduct for boarding.

I'm going to be out of the net for awhile, but will update the final later. USA will be hard-pressed to keep the lead with that long of a shorthanded situation, and will need Campbell to be the best penalty killer.

We shall see if they can hang on, or if this hit becomes the game's key turning point.

You can follow the action live at:

USA survived the five minute major and are up 1-0 after one period, but are without Watson's services for the rest of the game. Hope Snäll is OK-- don't know if he returned to the game or not, but from the sounds of it, didn't look good for him. All the best to him in hopes that he didn't suffer a major injury on the play and can have a speedy recovery.

Justin Faulk just scored at 7:31 of the second to give USA a 2-0 lead (Austin Czarnik and Nick Shore with the helpers). Faulk is one of those defenders who doesn't get as much mention as Derek Forbort, Jon Merrill, or Jarred Tinordi, but is a key ingredient of the glue that forms this dominant blue line corps.

Here's something I did up on Faulk recently.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Rubbing salt in the wounds encore

I know that if there are still any Toronto Maple Leafs fans out there (who read this blog at least), this will come off as being downright mean and cruel, but I'm doing it anyway.

Interrogative: What do you think of that goalie, Tuukka Rask, eh?

Snicker, snicker.

As the 23-year-old Finn continues to build his legend in outplaying Ryan Miller (1.80 GAA, .940 save percentage) to help the Boston Bruins to a 3-1 lead in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, Toronto fans can't help but wonder what might have been had Rask not been gifted to Boston for the since-departed Andrew Raycroft a little less than four years ago.

The most deluded of Leafs supporters will console themselves with the belief that Johan Gustavsson is the better player and they're better off with "the Monster" than Rask, but the fact of the matter is-- they drafted Rask, and had they kept him, might have had the Finn and the Swede as opposed to the big-money contract of Jean-Sebastien Giguere that Brian Burke was forced to bring on board when Vesa Toskala crossed the point of no return with his horrid play. Gustavsson and Giguere couldn't get Toronto out of 29th place, and with so much money invested in the defense and goaltending positions, that offense will continue to be a source of contention for Toronto in 2010-11.

To think that then-GM John Ferguson Jr. believed that Justin Pogge (last seen playing for the Albany River Rats of the AHL) was the guy to keep in Toronto over Rask seems so ludicrous, so laughable, but it's a thought that Bruins fans will gladly take to the bank.

Rask is the rare bird in the pro goaltending fraternity: he's not only got the size and athleticism to be a top-tier player, but he's calm, unflappable and refuses to let the pressure get to him. He's an ideal foil for the media, too. Ask him a question and he'll usually shrug and give an answer that underscores his strong confidence in himself, team and ability to maintain an even keel.

When queried about the pressure he faced in Game 3, his first home start in a come-from-behind 2-1 victory, he responded that the situation itself was "...just like any other playoff game, I'd say."

If you talk to scouts who saw Rask coming up through the amateur ranks, they'll tell you that none of what he's doing is all that surprising. He played for an offense-challenged team in Ilves Tampere, much like he does now. When the Lynx won games, it was usually because they scored two or three goals tops, but Rask only allowed one or none.

Rask brought that same template from the Finnish SM-Liiga with him into the stretch run when Boston was clinging to its playoff hopes and coach Claude Julien decided to let the rookie determine his team's fate over Tim Thomas, the game, but mercurial Vezina Trophy goalie.

The Bruins still must win one more game before they advance. The series against Buffalo is not over, but with Boston in the driver's seat, Rask has the opportunity to slam the door on his division rival. His team is playing with a confidence borne of a group of guys who believe completely and unquestionably in their man between the pipes, a club who knows that even if he gets behind the 8-ball early, he won't fall apart, and as the final minutes wind down, he'll keep them in it.

Pogge imploded in Toronto. It is a bit ironic that his death knell as a Leaf essentially came in December of 2008, when Boston's David Krejci torched him for his first (and to date only) NHL hat trick. Pogge was traded to Anaheim a few weeks later and isn't even in the NHL these days. He's not done by any stretch, but he's not done a thing to show he has any real upside as a future starter at the highest level.

On the other hand, Rask's trajectory is a rocket soaring into the upper stratosphere. He's bringing the kind of hope and true belief in net for the Bruins that hasn't truly been seen in these parts since Andy Moog and Rejean Lemelin manned the crease two decades ago.

Toronto ditched the wrong guy, that much is obvious. And, they'll hand over the rights to Tyler Seguin or Taylor Hall to Boston in June, a price they would not have had to pay if Rask had been wearing the blue and white for them this season. Oh, and they're on the hook for that high second-rounder this year and another first next. Toronto had better hope that they get much better goaltending next year, or we'll be doing the same kind of song and dance 365 days from now.

The Bruins have taken their lumps with trades in recent years, with the Joe Thornton exchange having done the most longterm damage to the fans' psyche. But with Rask, the B's and their fans know they have the upper hand, and with him locked in for two more years at the paltry sum of $1.25 million per, the good news is only getting better.

In June 2006, the Leafs tried to take a shortcut by adding a former rookie of the year who was coming off a lousy year, hoping that he'd regain his form in the most stifling hockey environment of Toronto. Leafs Nation found out the hard way that hope is not a method; Rask has developed precisely the way he was projected to, while Pogge serves as contrasting proof that it doesn't always happen the way scouts think or even hope it will.

Toronto's loss is Boston's gain. Now, Rask can continue to add to his growing fame and take his place as one of the essential core ingredients of this Bruins team now and in the future.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

USA! USA! USA! aka Campbell posts ANOTHER shutout--USA back in U-18 final

Well, what more can you say about goaltender Jack Campbell and Team USA's stingy defense?

The Americans cruised to a 5-0 victory over Finland today in the Under-18 semifinal game, with Campbell facing just 14 shots against one of the tournament's best offenses.

It was the third consecutive whitewash for Campbell, who blanked Canada 5-0 last Friday (30 saves), then the Czech Republic 6-0 on Tuesday (11 saves) in the quarterfinal round. USA beat Belarus 7-1 to close out the round robin on Sunday, but Andy Iles was in net for that one (and Iles is a pretty decent goalie in his own right-- small, but quick and combative the way Mike Vernon and Andy Moog were back in the day), so that means that in his last four starts Campbell has given up just one Switzerland scored at 11:58 of the first period a week ago. To recap, that makes it 11 full periods that Campbell has played without giving up a single goal.

Nick Shore (brother of last year draftee Drew Shore and eligible in '11) tallied twice against Finland, while Adam Clendening, Matt Nieto and Jarred Tinordi also scored.

I didn't see the game, but in allowing just 14 shots, the USA defense obviously got the job done again. Still, Campbell has been a beast. The shutout will push him up around a .970 save percentage for the tourney, having gone 4-1 with three shutouts since losing the opening game to Sweden by a 4-2 score.

Now, by virtue of Sweden's 3-1 win over Russia today, that means we'll get a rematch for the gold medal on Friday.

If USA can overcome Sweden's speed and skill ('11 superstud blueliner Adam Larsson is on the Tri-Kronor and scored today), then they'll have back-to-back Under-18 titles for the second time in USA Hockey history (2005-06).

What's that loud WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSH sound you're hearing?

Why, that's Campbell's draft stock rocketing to the heavens. If he can pull off a big game between the pipes on Friday, he'll have made the kind of statement no other 18-year-old goalie going into the NHL draft has ever done against the best young competition on the planet.

That the Windsor Spitfires (on life support after winning Game 4 against Kitchener to make the series 3-1) are getting Campbell and Tom Kuehnhackl next year just doesn't seem fair.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Granlund, Pulkkinen getting it done in Belarus

Every year, like clockwork it happens. At least one player whose draft stock is down gives it a major shot in the arm with a strong perfomance at the World Under-18 Championship tournament.

This year, a pair of Finns have accomplished that trick, with top-end draft prospect Mikael Granlund and the lesser-known Teemu Pulkkinen putting on an offensive show at the U-18 tourney in Minsk.

I've written about Granlund here, here and here, and have a little bit on Pulkkinen here.

The duo has keyed Finland to a 4-0 record and Team Suomi is set to take on Team USA in the tournament semifinal (who is 4-1 after losing the opening game to Sweden, but blew out Canada 5-0 and crushed Czech Republic 6-0 in the quarterfinal playoff game).

Pulkkinen leads all players in scoring with an unreal seven goals and 12 points in four games. That's approaching Alexander Ovechkin territory when he played in the same tourney '03 (well, not quite but still praiseworthy), while Granlund is fifth with three goals and nine points. Like Edmonton prospect Toni Rajala last year, Pulkkinen is scoring at will and elevating his draft stock in the process.

His size and skating is still a concern, but like Jeff Skinner, he just knows how to put the puck in the net, and he's doing it against the best of his peers from around the world.

Team Sweden has been the class of the tourney, and faces Russia in the other semifinal. Johan Larsson is tied with Pulkkinen in points with 12 on 6 goals and 6 assists, while Russian Evgeni Kuznetsov picked up where he left off at the WJC (U-20) and the Six Nations in February. The explosive, uber-skilled forward has five goals and 11 points in five games, good for third in scoring overall.

USA's best player has been first-round goalie prospect Jack Campbell, who continues to shine on the international stage. Trying for his third gold medal in a year's time, he is 3-1, with a pair of shutouts, a .958 save percentage and a 1.00 GAA after being in net for the opening loss against Sweden. The kid is a stud, although he did only need to make 11 saves in USA's win over the about a smothering defense!

I've also heard very good things about Austin Watson, who's making a strong case to go well inside the top-15 in June, and even Connor Brickley, who has played his checking role to a 'T' while adding three assists in five games. Jason Zucker has had a productive tourney as well; the Nevadan looks like he could be a solid second-rounder in the draft come June. Most of USA's best forwards are 2011 prospects: Rocco Grimaldi, Brandon Saad, Nick Shore, Matt Nieto and Bryan Rust.

USA's strength is in the D: Jarred Tinordi, Justin Faulk, Stephen Johns and even Jon Merrill have played well according to reports. Nobody's been better than Adam Clendening, however, a 2011 draft prospect, who leads the team with two goals and eight points in five contests (tied with Grimaldi).

The Americans will have their work cut out for them trying to stop the high-flying Finns, led by Granlund and Pulkkinen. If anyone can do it, Team USA can, but it won't be another 11-shot shutout for Campbell; he'll need to be on top of his game for his team to have a shot at a second consecutive gold medal in the World U-18s for the first time in U.S. history.

I'll have more on the tourney when I can talk to some scouts in detail who were there about what went on, but this should get the ball rolling for those of you who aren't following the proceedings as closely.

Also- Canada has had a disastrous tournament. More on them later.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Jeff Skinner on a tear

A funny thing happened to the Windsor Spitfires on the way to defending their title at the Memorial Cup tournament in Brandon: Jeff Skinner and the Kitchener Rangers got in the way, that's what!

Taylor Hall and the rest of his Spits mates have been overshadowed by Skinner's heroics in the OHL's Eastern Conference final series, with the Rangers taking a 3 games to none lead on the back of the league's regular season goal scoring (50) leader's four goals and six points. In 16 playoff games for Kitchener, Skinner has as many tallies and 27 points, staking a legitimate claim (stranglehold?) on playoff MVP honors. His postseason totals, when combined with his regular season numbers give him 66 goals and 117 points in 80 games.

I started following Skinner last summer, when he was a key part of Team Canada's gold medal entry at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in Slovakia. He scored a hat trick in the final contest, demonstrating his killer instinct in the big moment.

Much is made about Skinner's lack of size and speed, but he compensates for those shortcomings with incredible lower body strength and balance borne from a background in figure skating. He may not be great defensively, but he's a willing worker and at least hustles, which is an entirely different animal from a player who just doesn't give a $#@! about backchecking (O, Pavel Brendl, wherefore art thou?)

I once thought that the Bruins might be able to steal Skinner at around 15, but have now completely given up that thought. Nobody's getting Skinner at 15...or maybe even 10 for that matter.

No, if you're going to get this kid, you now need a pick firmly inside the top-10 to have a shot. Pure goal scorers with his nose for the net and big game ability are the most sought-after commodity in the NHL draft after the quintessential cornerstone two-way shutdown D (a la Chris Pronger and Drew Doughty), so with the cat now so clearly out of the bag with Skinner outdueling Hall by a wide margin in that series, the youngster from Markham, Ontario isn't slipping by anyone.

Yeah-- that 34th overall ranking from Central is looking worse with every passing day that the Rangers are in the playoffs. Skinner's taken it not only to a whole new level, but another plane of existence.

The kid is a gamer, and some NHL team picking high has no doubt recognized that and will reward him accordingly in Los Angeles.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Central Scouting Service final European rankings recap: skaters and goalies

The Central Scouting final rankings were released on April 7, so I'm a little slow in getting out my commentary on the European players, but better late than never as they always say.

Topping the European skaters list is Finnish phenom Mikael Granlund, who had an extremely succesful SM-Liiga season averaging a point per game against men. Despite his smallish size (5-10, 180), lack of speed and initial burst and a pedestrian World Junior (Under-20) tournament back in December and January, it would be a mistake to write him off. A brilliant playmaker whose hockey sense is off the charts, he flourished as a 17-year-old in a league populated by men with a skill level comparable to the AHL. Factor in his offensive prowess in a league that is traditionally more defensive in nature, and Granlund is still a heck of a prospect. Nobody else in Europe will seriously challenge him as the first Euro off the board come June.

Now, if not for the "Russian factor" Vladimir Tarasenko would give Granlund a run for the money, but the lack of a transfer agreement is a game-changer for a lot of NHL clubs. Some have gone so far as to completely remove Russian players from their draft lists. Tarasenko deserves to be No. 2 on the list, but he'll go much lower because of concerns about his signability and some uneven performances/concerns about the compete level from him at times. A pure shooter who can score at will, the talent is something to behold. He's very fast, elusive and has that killer instinct around the net. At 5-10 and under 180, he's another one of those prototypical small guys who can really scoot and shoot and get things done on offense, but he's going to fall victim to the Russia bias that has become a reality at the NHL draft. Some team will take him, but where it might have landed him in the top-five or seven as the No. 2 Euro, it will now likely happen outside of the top-15 or 20 if not lower.

Right behind Tarasenko is fellow Russian scorer extraordinaire Evgeni Kuznetsov, who shined at the World Jr. (Under-20) tourney, then followed it up with a dazzling performance in the Six Nations Cup in Feb, leading Russia to a perfect 5-0 record while leading the tourney in scoring, and he's currently playing well for Russia's Under-18 championship squad in Belarus (Tarasenko is a late-'91 birthdate and therefore not eligible). I've heard that Kuznetsov wants to come to North America next season, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out. He's a dynamic player, but can play an undisciplined game and is prone to bad penalties and body language at times. Still, there's a very high upside with this kid.

At No. 4 overall on the Euro list is a player who is getting his absolute first mention on the B2010DW blog: Swedish center Calle Jarnkrok, who vaulted to that spot from 21 on Central's midterm list. The Brynas Jr. team pivot. Red Line Report has placed him atop their list of Swedish players, and had this to say about him in their April issue: "Very smart and smooth with the puck, finding open teammates with thread-the-needle passes." They also added that he's a slick, elusive skater with excellent vision and creativity. This guy is someone to watch for the late-first early second round.

Big Russian Maxim Kitsyn, a strong skater who plays a power game, dropped to six from three at midterm. He's got some nice tools and potential, but again- because of where he's from, he'll go a lot lower than his ranking would have dictated six or seven years ago.

Rounding out the top-10 are a pair of guys I like and find intriguing as options for the Bruins in the early second round if they still have the Toronto pick: German forward Tom Kuehnhackl, who had an injury-plagued season after being hailed as an early candidate to go inside the top-10 and huge Slovak defender Martin Marincin, who has the size and skating to be a player, but was up-and-down when I saw him this season, especially in the World Jr. tourney. One game, he's dominant, and the next a turnstile. He's extremely lanky and raw, but if anyone can develop him into a more consistent presence, he could be a real player at the next level. Kuehnhackl has nice bloodlines as the son of Germany's all-time leading pro league scorer, a centerman with very nice size (6-2) speed and skill. But, he's a bit of an enigma in that he wasn't seen by many scouts this year, so he's expected to slip a bit. Oh, by the way- he'll be seen by a lot of folks next year because he's coming to North America to play for the Windsor Spitfires, who are losing Taylor Hall to the NHL. He's a bit of a gamble to be sure, but if he's lighting it up for the Spits next season, whomever takes him in June is going to look real good.

At 17 is Europe's version of Jeff Skinner: Finnish goal scoring right wing (Jokerit) Teemu Pulkkinen, who missed a lot of time with a wrist injury but returned to action and put the puck in the net well enough to keep the wolves at bay. He's small and not a great skater, but like Skinner, just knows where to go on the ice to finish off the play. I hear he's having a pretty fair Under-18 tourney in Minsk, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder with him. One scout I talked to doesn't have much use for him as a projected impact player in the NHL.

Another guy who merits mention is Swedish center Victor Ohman, who was only 38th on Central's midterm list, but moved up to 18. Red Line liked him going into the season as a power forward with skill and bite, but he disappointed them early on with an indfference on the ice and overall lack of intensity. At least in Central's eyes, he woke up a bit and has made a push. The size, talent and potential is there, but he could very well slip to the third round.

Tuukka Rask's brother, Joonas, is an unspectacular two-way center who's been passed over in two previous drafts, but is ranked 82nd on the list, up from 121 at midterm. Could third time be the charm?

As far as European goalies go, it's not a surprise that a Finn is atop the list with Ilves Jr. netminder Sami Aittokallio leading the way, up from No. 2 at midterm. He plays in the same club/team system as Rask, and like the Bruins rookie, has the same kind of size and build. He's a butterfly goalie who plays well positionally but doesn't have the athleticism and upside of Rask. He's not a household name by any stretch, so any team who takes him will be going against the grain a bit.

Swiss netminder Benjamin Conz is a much more known commodity after his scene-stealing performance at the World Jr. tourney in Saskatoon. Passed over in 2009, he isn't the best conditioned goalie to ever put on the pads, nor is he the most athletic, but he never gives up on a play and does the one thing that matters most pretty well: he stops the puck. Someone will snap him up in 2010.

Swedish goalie Johan Gustafsson is fifth on the list, but some scouts think he might be the best of the Euro crop (which, honestly speaking-- isn't saying a whole lot this year). He's big, quick, athletic and solid positionally, with a few things to work on. But his overall game is appealing even if he is a work in progress (and not going to come with any kind of nicknames like "the Monster").

Well, that's it for the Central lists. There are more Euros out there, but I think the real theme with them this year is that for the most part, two of the best ones are already in North America, when you talk about Nino Niederreiter and Alexander Burmistrov, who between them, would have made the European list that much stronger.

The quiet men

This post is dedicated to several players who are not flashy and haven't been headline grabbers like some members of the 2010 draft class, but are talented enough to be considered mid-to-late first-round picks, and therefore in range for Boston when they use their second of two first-rounders (and might even package picks/players to trade into the 1st to get three firsts come draft day).

Now, just because these guys are on the list does not mean they are locks for the first-round, nor are they necessarily going to be desireable from a Boston standpoint. But, these players are solid, underrated and all deserve consideration in the top-30.

They are worth knowing something about.

Justin Faulk, D U.S. NTDP (USHL) 5-11, 195 Shoots: R March 20, 1992
Smallish defenseman is a very good skater who sees the ice well and can stretch the ice with strong, accurate lead passes. Like Boston's Matt Hunwick, he generates very good power on his shot despite not having a lot of natural size. Unfortunately, also like Hunwick, Faulk can get overpowered easily by big, bruising power forwards who take the puck hard to the net. Still, the skills are present, he plays with speed, energy and tenacity, and could be one of those classic "more than the sum of his parts" because he seems to have the natural smarts and work ethic to make himself into a player at the highest level.

Tyler Pitlick, RW Mankato State (WCHA) 6-1, 195 Shoots: R November 1, 1991
Nephew of former NHL forward Lance Pitlick quietly had an outstanding freshman season for the Mavericks. An excellent skater with quick burst and good north-south agility, he also has some nice creativity which isn't always easy to pick up because he doesn't have a lot of help around him. He's one of those classic up-and-down wingers who isn't going to necessarily dazzle or excite you, but he's got some ability and according to the April edition of the Red Line Report, could break into the late first round.

Ryan Spooner, C Peterborough (OHL) 5-10, 177 Shoots: L January 30, 1992
The classic "small" player, Spooner is all speed and skill, plus he works hard and has the kind of creativity that should see him make some kind of impact at the next level. Unfortunately for him, he broke his collarbone after the Top Prospects Game in January, and the rest of his season was a loss. I still remember the jailbreak play Spooner had with Taylor Hall late in the Top Prospects game, with the two using their speed to generate a 2-on-1 that Spooner finished off nicely. This guy has a ton of heart, and even with the concerns that because of his lack of size he'll always be an injury risk, he's worth taking a chance on late in the first-round. Second round for Spooner is a no-brainer.

Jarred Tinordi, D U.S. NTDP (USHL) 6-5, 203 Shoots: L February 20, 1992
Admittedly, he's a meat-and-potatoes defenseman who has size and toughness, but not much offensive upside. Still, the son is a chip off the old block, playing a similar style to his dad, Mark, who was playing for the Capitals when Jarred was born. The Notre Dame recruit is steady, smart positionally and owns the walls and front of the net. The U.S. Under-18 team captain has all the intangibles you want such as tenacity, leadership and poise under pressure. Think of him as a similar player to Mark Stuart-- he's going to hit, fight, play hard and give you everything he has. Just don't ask him to go out and score a lot of goals or run your power play.

Friday, April 16, 2010

2 Minutes in the box with...Tyler Seguin

Tyler Seguin deserves his spot atop Central Scouting's final rankings. He's a skilled and accomplished center who plays a well-rounded game and has proven he can finish as adeptly as he sets the table for teammates. While he and his Plymouth Whalers club were swept by the powerhouse Windsor Spitfires led by Taylor Hall in the second round, Seguin had nowhere near the support Hall enjoys. It wasn't a great series for Seguin, but he also put up 10 points in five games in the opening round against Sault Ste. Marie. The kid is a gamer.

I hooked up with Seguin on Thursday, and chatted with him a bit about his past, present and future.

Bruins 2010 Draft Watch: How did the season go for you?

Tyler Seguin: It was great. Coming into the season, my biggest objective from a team standpoint was to get farther than we got last year, losing to Windsor in the second round. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, but there was a lot to learn from and build on; I got much better defensively and improved my faceoff skills, so I think that overall, we had a good year even if losing to Windsor again was a big disappointment for us.

B2010DW: You obviously want to be the top pick in the draft, but if that doesn't work out, what are your thoughts on going second to Boston?

TS: I want to go to the team that really wants me. First overall would be dream come true, but it’s not my main goal, so if I’m not first then I want to go to Boston. One of my good friends has told me all about what a great city Boston is, and it would be exciting to become a part of the hockey tradition there

B2010DW: What was the biggest challenge you faced this season?

TS: Getting cut from the World Jrs.- that was probably the biggest challenge I faced. I think I came to camp gripping the stick too much and not playing my game. It was the first time I got cut from anything in hockey, so it was something big for me, and it helped my learning curve. I went back to the OHL, and I was determined to apply myself. It worked out pretty well; I finished the month strong to win OHL Player of the Month for not only December, but January, so in the end, I think getting cut gave me the motivation to go out and prove that I could play at a high level while allowing me to refocus my effort and energy on my season with Plymouth.

B2010DW: Your dad (Paul) played hockey at the University of Vermont; how much of an impact has he had on your own development and game?

TS: My whole life, even when I was younger, he’s been pushing me in a very positive way. Although he didn’t make it to the NHL, he taught me about being passionate for the game, but having fun with the role I play for my team.

B2010DW: How did the experience at the summer's Ivan Hlinka tournament where you won gold for Team Canada help prepare you for your OHL season?

TS: Off-ice, I had a busy summer. I was working out five days a week and it (the tournament itself) was a 25-day experience. We had our camp in Calgary and then went over and played great as a team. Winning the gold medal was a great experience. Coming into the (09-10 OHL) season, I read that some (scouting, hockey publications) had me 10th, one was 6th-- I wasn't one or two (at the time), so for me, playing in Slovakia gave me an opportunity to test myself against the Europeans and other top players from the U.S. I got to see where I was at, what I needed to do to get better at the center position.

B2010DW: How do you see yourself as a player? Biggest strengths?

TS: My whole life, my dad’s been saying, ‘Make everyone around you look good; if you can make other players better, then the team is going to be successful.’ I’ve just tried to live that by going out and dishing the puck and being a playmaker.

B2010 DW: What do you think Boston fans will like best about your game?

TS: I think they'll like the fact that I'm a complete player. I can score and set up the play, but I work hard defensively, too. My defensive play is I think the biggest thing I improved on this season.

B2010DW: Do you have any strong feelings about playing center versus wing? If Boston asked you to play wing, how would you feel about that?

TS: I'm a natural center, but I can play the wing and have done it with some good success. It comes down to the coaches and how they see me and what kind of role they want me to play. I just want to be able to contribute, so if it's at center, then great. I'm most comfortable there. But, if I'm needed more on the wing, then that's where I'll play and I'll do my best with it.

B2010DW: What are your thoughts on the coaching you've had in Plymouth?

TS: Coach (Mike) Vellucci and coaches (Joe) Stefan and (Brian) Sommariva have been great. Coach Vellucci was especially helpful last year, when I was in my first OHL season, and he would have a lot of little talks with me about what I was doing and how I could be even better for the team. He was the one who told me that my NHL dream could become a goal; he said that I had the tools and enough talent to get there, and then pushed me to play my best. I can’t say enough about how great everyone has been here in this organization.

B2010DW: Do you see yourself in the NHL next year?

TS: Yeah, I do. I think I have the tools. Come summer, I’m going to keep working to add some pounds (to my frame). All I can ask for is the opportunity (to play in the NHL). If that opportunity comes, I think I can take advantage of it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Don't miss the Central Scouting North American rankings recap

I started it yesterday and saved/edited, so it's about 3 or 4 posts down from this one as opposed to being at the top of the blog.

Linky here for ease of access.


Peter Chiarelli's post-lottery conference call and more on Seguin, Hall

Last night, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli met the press after the formal announcement came that the Bruins would select second overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft with the lottery in the books.

They had a 60.8% chance of landing inside the top-two and a relieved Bruins Nation was glad the percentages played out. Sure, winning the thing (18.8%) outright would have been super, but the fact remains that whether it be Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin who goes to Boston, the B's are getting a tremendous talent.

Now, nothing is guaranteed-- as excellent as these two players have been this year, we don't know how they'll fare in the NHL. However, the Boston GM seemed to believe that both of them will be in the big league next season. How much of an impact they'll have for their respective teams remains to be seen, however.

My colleague Doug Flynn and I combined to provide some specific lottery content and analysis for you over at the New England Hockey Journal official website, so I urge you to check it out here, here and here.

This is a big deal not only because it is now starting to look like sending Phil Kessel to a division rival may be vindicated. Yes, Kessel is a proven NHL talent and tallied 30 goals for the second consecutive season, but Seguin or Hall are on the verge of contributing to Boston's fortunes right away, even if we're not sure whether that contribution is going to be along the lines of Joe Thornton's minimal impact in 1997-98 or Patrice Bergeron's more substantial performance in 2003-04.

Speaking of Bergeron, this is starting to look like the scenario which unfolded back in 2002 when veteran forward Bill Guerin left Boston to sign a $9 million per annum deal with the Dallas Stars and under the CBA back then, the B's got the 45th overall compensatory selection in the second round a year later in 2003. Using it on Bergeron, the Bruins benefited from as immediate an impact as possible under the rules back then, getting 16 goals and 39 points plus outstanding two-way play from the rookie in the season right before the lockout. If Hall or Seguin get picked by Boston and is then in the Bruins' lineup on opening night 2010, then you can start to say that this trade balances out. Chiarelli still has a ways to go before proving that surrending Kessel for picks was the right payoff, but an immediate contibution by whomever the team gets at No. 2 would certainly get the puck sliding in that direction.

So, with the 2010 playoffs about to start for Boston in Buffalo, draft watchers can now content themselves with running the debate between Hall and Seguin and not be overly concerned about which of the interesting, but nowhere near as lauded defensemen Cam Fowler, Eric Gudbranson and Brandon Gormley may go with the third overall pick.

Boston caught a huge break in seeing that deal with Toronto in June (7th overall pick, Tomas Kaberle) fall through. With all due respect to Kaberle, he's a soft player and would not have provided the Bruins what the team needs to be an over-the-top contender, and if rumor is to be believed that Zack Kassian was the B's target with that pick (Toronto picked Nazem Kadri), he's a decent power forward who has looked much better with Windsor than he did with Peterborough before the trade (for Austin Watson, a first-round prospect in June), Kassian (a Sabres prospect) has nowhere near the skill or upside of Hall and Seguin.

Who knew that the Leafs would go into the tank this year?

Chiarelli claims he didn't envision it, and so this is all so much gravy for the Bruins. They're in the playoffs and if Tuukka Rask can continue his magnificent play, and the others can step up, anything is possible.

An elite talent like Seguin or Hall is going to be the proverbial cherry on top.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

And the Boston Bruins will select...2nd

Draft order stayed the same.

So, it's going to be Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin.

Congratulations, Bruins fans.

The NHL draft lottery show is on now

We'll all know the deal within the hour.

Stay tuned. It's on VERSUS, and Peter Chiarelli will have a post-event conference call I will be in on.

Stick around-- I'll have more coverage on this as we go on.

UPDATE: Bob McKenzie's Top-10 (he polled 10 NHL scouts or scouting directors for votes and this is what he came up with)

1. Taylor Hall, LW Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
2. Tyler Seguin, C Plymouth Whalers (OHL)
3. Cam Fowler, D Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
4. Erik Gudbranson, D Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
5. Brett Connolly, LW Prince George Cougars (WHL)
6. Brandon Gormley, D Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)
7. Nino Niederreiter, RW Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
8. Ryan Johansen, C Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
9. Alexander Burmistrov, C Barrie Colts (OHL)
10. Derek Forbort, D US NTDP (USHL)

Central Scouting Service final rankings recap: North American skaters and goalies

I'm back with some thoughts on Central Scouting's final rankings beyond the top-two that I covered over the weekend.

First of all, this is a difficult thing to put together, and I appreciate the Central staff's hard work to view and rank all of the players. Everyone sees the prospects differently, and in this business, sometimes beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. That said, I've talked to a few of my sources in the NHL scouting fraternity, and they aren't all that impressed with a few of the conclusions E.J. McGuire and his scouts arrived at with the list.

You won't see a lot of debate with the first six players on the list. After Tyler Seguin and Taylor Hall, you have players like Prince George winger Brett Connolly, Erik Gudbranson of the OHL's Kingston Frontenacs, Windsor blueliner Cam Fowler and Moncton defender Brandon Gormley, and all of them have the requisite skill and upside to go there. If there is a little controversy, it is with Connolly, who missed most of the year with hip problems, but he looked strong when he returned late in the year and will get another opportunity to raise his stock at the World Under-18 Championship in Belarus this week and next.

The problems start at No. 7 and 8 overall, where Central has Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL) defenseman Mark Pysyk and Medicine Hat Tigers winger Emerson Etem ranked.

"It's a joke to have those guys that high," said one scout who's seen both with heavy scorn in his voice. "I don't get how you have Nino Niederreiter so far down the list (at 12) behind Pysyk and do you do that?"

Several scouts have said that Pysyk was a real disappointment this season. Yes, he has size and all of the physical tools, but didn't put it all together and much too often, seemed like more of a soft, passive player with questionable decision-making than you want to see so early in the draft. As for Etem, he scored a lot of goals (37) and showed off great speed and skill, but didn't do much else. Oh, and did I mention he was hurt for a long stretch of the season to close it out? That's not the kind of guy you take inside the top-10, even with the impressive physical attributes. Can you say Johnathan Aitken?

"I think Etem has huge bust potential," the scout said. "I wonder about his vision and hockey sense; I've seen him just throw the puck in the middle of the slot when nobody's there, and he doesn't display a lot of creativity. He won't get away with some of the things he's done in the WHL at the next level."

One player who's earned a solid passing grade inside the top-10 is Portland center Ryan Johansen, who Central ranked ahead of linemate Niederreiter. Johansen addressed some of the concerns about his awkward skating stride and balance, showing off his tremendous playmaking skills and also finding the back of the net down the stretch. He was outstanding in Portland's seven-game series victory over the Spokane Chiefs in the opening round of the WHL playoffs. This was a guy who a year ago was a fourth-liner for the Penticton Vees of the BCHL. Talk about a developmental curve that is shooting straight up...

Niederreiter, some feel, is too low at 12. He scored 36 goals this year for Portland, but also showed a gritty two-way game that earned him a great deal of praise. There is some risk that his average skating ability makes him a risk as a top-six forward at the NHL level, but he does so many other things well that he's got better potential to succeed than fail.

Nick Bjugstad and Austin Watson are a pair of Americans from Minnesota and Michigan with very good size and hockey skill. Watson's offensive game took off after he was traded from Windsor to Peterborough where he got top line duties. Bjugstad is the winner of the prestigious Mr. Hockey award, given to the top Minnesota high schooler. His uncle, Scott Bjugstad, played in the NHL in the 80's and 90's, so he's got the bloodlines to go with his impressive upside.

John McFarland at 15th overall is another curious choice by Central. By most accounts the immensely talented and former top OHL Priority Selection two years ago has chronically underachieved this season for the Sudbury Wolves. At times, he's acted pretty disinterested on the ice, and I hear that some of the issues with McFarland go beyond just him. With just 20 goals and 50 points in 64 regular season games, that is production far too low for what he's capable of providing. He did score three goals in a four-game sweep in the first round of the OHL playoffs, but he's far too risky a player with attitude/work ethic/off-ice, family concerns to be taken seriously as a top-20 pick.

"I really don't know what (Central's) doing with him at 15," the scout said of McFarland. "If they're ranking him on performance, attitude and potential based on his season with Sudbury, then he's a second- or third-round pick. If they're ranking him on his performance with Team Canada, then he's a top four or five. It seems like they just threw him in the middle somewhere and left it at that."

The most curious ranking comes in the second round with Kitchener forward Jeff Skinner, who tallied 50 goals in the regular season, then added 12 in 13 playoff games in leading his Rangers team to the conference final series against powerhouse Windsor. Skinner is 34th, which is up 13 spots from his even more confounding No. 47 slot at midterm.

"I don't even know what to call that," he said. "Yes, he's not a great skater and doesn't have ideal size, but he scored 50 goals and has kept it going in the playoffs. There's no way, none-- that Skinner is on the board at 34."

The scout added that the more confounding thing about Central's slotting of the natural scorer is that when you factor in the European players, that 34th ranking is more like a 40-50 projection. Skinner is destined for the first round, and possibly even the top-15.

Russian Kirill Kabanov, who is falling like a stone (31st from 15th at midterm) after being dismissed from the Moncton Wildcats in the playoffs and then booted from Russia's Under-18 team. He had wrist surgery in December and missed most of the year after getting off to a good start in the QMJHL, but even though he's talented, he's extremely immature, has a domineering over-involved father, and has too many red flags to be considered as a viable draft candidate commensurate with his raw talent and skill level. He's been hyped to the point that people who haven't seen him, nor understand the level of petulance he's displayed on several levels this year, are convinced that NHL teams still see him as worthy of a first-round pick. I respectfully disagree-- he'll probably go somewhere in the second, but even then, he'll be a big risk and potential high-maintenance headache for any team that rolls the dice on him.

Ryan Spooner (39th) and Jared Knight (82nd) are two more OHLers who appear to be ranked much lower than their talent and upside would indicate. Spooner, who is blazing skater and offensive whiz for Peterborough, broke his collarbone after the Top Prospects Game in January, derailing his season, but the injury isn't expected to effect him and he should be ready for the NHL Draft Combine at the end of May.

As far as the goalies go, Seattle Thunderbird Calvin Pickard deserves to be in the top spot. He's a tremendous athlete who played great all year for a very mediocre team, facing about 35 shots per game on average, but always keeping the T-Birds in every one. Like his older brother, Chet, he'll go solidly in the first-round somewhere.

American Jack Campbell is right behind him, and has a chance to raise his profile at the World Under-18 tourney. He won gold last year at 17 in Fargo, then won gold again at the World Junior (u-20) in January and could make it a gold trifecta in Belarus. He's also a solid first-rounder and the distance between Campbell and Pickard is very small.

Everett Silvertips goalie Kent Simpson is No. 3 on the list and deserves to be there. The big, atheletic Edmontonian had a very consistent year in the WHL, posting a .925 save percentage with a 2.25 goals against average. He's your prototypical modern-day goalie with the size and quickness to be tough to beat in net.

I also like Niagara Ice Dogs goalie Mark Visentin who is fourth on the list, but shows some interesting upside. At least, he did in the one half of the game I saw him play in Windsor back in January.

Keep an eye on Sam Brittain, the Denver University-bound netminder who played with Canmore of the Alberta Junior Hockey League (the same league that produced Joe Colborne). He's another big, skilled player who will need a lot of patience and development, but he'd be an interesting option for Boston at 47th overall if he's on the board.

Quebec native Martin Ouellette, who recently committed to the University of Maine after backstopping Kimball Union Academy to the New England Prep small school championship in early march, is up to 13th from 17th at midterm and is an interesting developmental project.

I can't believe Brian Billett was left off the list entirely. All he did was win the EJHL championship and had a solid Beantown Classic performance last month. I know I'm higher on him than some, but it is inconceivable to me that he would be snubbed like that. I'm convinced that one of the NHL's 30 teams will take the Boston College-bound Billett at some point.

Well, that does it for the North American roundup. I'll be back soon with a look at the European list.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Lottery tomorrow night

Tuesday night will see the non-playoff pick position for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft determined via the league's weighted system in which the five bottom-finishing teams all have a chance at gaining the first overall pick.

The event will be broadcast live in the U.S. on VERSUS (via simulcast) at 8 pm EST, while our Canadaian brothers and sisters can see it on TSN. NESN will have a 30-minute special immediately after, featuring Boston Bruins Vice President Cam Neely in studio with host Kathryn Tappen.

Here's the money quote from a Boston Bruins press release today:

"The Bruins - who acquired Toronto’s first and second roundpicks this year in the trade for Phil Kessel - have an 18.8% chance oflanding the first overall pick and a 60.8% chance of landing either the first or second overall pick. Based on the Lottery’s rules, the lowestpick the Bruins can have is the third overall selection."

We've waited all season to see where Boston's pick will end up, so the team can now only hope that any of the bad luck/karma/vibes whatever you call them-- you know, the stuff that saw the Boston Celtics drop all the way down to five in 2007 after finishing with the NBA's second-worst record in the 06-07 season-- doesn't resurface.

Of course, the NHL lottery system isn't quite the joke that the NBA one is, but still. Here are the different teams with percentages based on the end of the regular season yesterday.

(Also from the release:)
Per NHL rules, the Club selected in the Draft Drawing may not move upmore than four positions in the draft order. Thus, the only Clubs withthe opportunity to receive the first overall selection are the fiveteams with the lowest regular-season point totals, or the Clubs thatacquired an eligible Club’s first-round draft pick. No club will movedown more than one position as a result of the Draft Drawing.

The percentage chance of a team being selected in the DraftDrawing:

Edmonton 25.0%
Boston (from TOR) 18.8%
Florida 14.2%
Columbus 10.7%
NY Islanders 8.1%
Tampa Bay 6.2%
Carolina 4.7%
Atlanta 3.6%
Minnesota 2.7%
NY Rangers 2.1%
Dallas 1.5%
Anaheim 1.1%
Phoenix (from CGY) 0.8%
St. Louis 0.5%

And no, haven't forgotten about the Central rankings...will get to that in the next day. Got overcome by the Bruins-Capitals game stories yesterday and then my deadline for the New England Hockey Journal May issue (Connor Brickley feature).

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The best of both worlds: B's make playoffs, pick in the draft's top three

Whoa, you don't have to die an' go to heaven
Or hang around to be born again
Just tune in to what this place has got to offer
'Cause we may never be here again. Ow!

I want the best of both worlds
An' honey I know what it's worth
If we could have the best of both worlds
A little heaven right here on earth. Come on!

Van Hagar song aside, the tune's title pretty much sums up where the Boston Bruins are right now.

They scored an NHL-record three shorthanded goals (on the same penalty) in 1:04 to take a 3-0 lead at home over Carolina, and then hung on for a 4-2 win to not only clinch a playoff berth, but earn a no lower than seventh-place seed. Whether they keep sixth place depends on whether Toronto beats Montreal tonight (and if that doesn't happen) and if the B's can take tomorrow's game against Washington to close out the regular season.

The cynics will say that they would rather have seen the Bruins miss the playoffs, because this team, as presently constructed, isn't going anywhere. Well, I agree with the idea that an extended playoff run for Boston isn't likely, but at the same time-- you play to win. Rooting for a team to miss the playoffs to get a draft pick that would only be about five or six spots earlier than where they will pick as one of the lower-seeded postseason clubs is a strategy I've never subscribed to.

Once you get in, anything can happen. And, if goaltending is the ultimate x-factor for the major sports, then having a white-hot Tuukka Rask going for you isn't a bad thing if you're the B's. Rask is not a typical rookie; two full years as a starter in Finland's elite league from 18-20 years of age, followed by two full years as a starter in Providence of the AHL has given him the kind of experience and swagger that most goalies who come out of major junior or college here in North America don't possess at age 23. If anyone can keep his team on a roll, Rask can.

But, it's that Toronto pick that should spark some genuine excitement among B's boosters. When the trade was made for Phil Kessel back in September, most conventional wisdom saw it falling anywhere from 10-15-20, believing that Brian Burke's Maple Leafs were a better team on paper than they actually were. After a horrendous start (much of it because of porus goaltending from Vesa Toskala and Johan Gustavsson) the Leafs just didn't have what it took to get back into the race, and have now handed the Bruins a lottery pick and the chance to take the best player in the 2010 draft if the balls go Boston's way on Tuesday.

Toronto had brief flashes of brilliance, especially when Kessel first started playing after missing the first month recovering from shoulder surgery, but when Burke dismantled his offense to bring in Dion Phaneuf and J.S. Giguere, the writing was on the wall. Sure, give the young Leafs and players like Tyler Bozak, Viktor Stalberg, Christian Hanson and Nikolai Kulemin credit for bringing more of an offensive attack down the stretch than I thought they would. They did a pretty good job of replacing the veteran forwards Burke sent packing, but it was still not enough to get them out of 29th place. The Bruins got help from the Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning, all of whom could have tanked, but won just enough games when they had to in order to keep the surging Leafs in the rearview mirror.

It's been a long season, and I've enjoyed following the Leaf draft pick "tank" watch on this blog. Come Tuesday night, we'll know Boston's early draft position and we can close the book on the 2010 tank watch and look ahead to the same thing for next season, as Toronto owes Boston the same thing in 2011 (minus the second-rounder, of course).

But the important thing is-- the Bruins are in the dance. I said in a blog post earlier that if you're Boston and going to miss the playoffs, this is a pretty good year to do it because most of the Western Conference non-playoff teams have better records than the Bruins. That said-- I am not a believer in accepting a non-playoff fate just to improve the pick position. You play to win in this game, so Bruins fans should be pleased that not only does their team get the opportunity to compete for the championship, they'll also see that same team picking up a player that should have gone to one of the NHL's doormats. Back in 1997 and 2006, the last time the B's have selected so high, the team had lousy, life-draining seasons to account for. It's nice to have a shot (albeit a looooooong one) at the Stanley Cup and the chance to draft a potential franchise cornerstone, too.

So, to break out an old saying: to the victor go the spoils. It's the best of both worlds, so enjoy it while it lasts.