Sunday, February 28, 2010

USA-Canada: Who wins gold?

America needs another all-universe performance from goaltender Ryan Miller to win, but you have to admire the team's pluck and ability to cast off individual skill in favor of the collective.

That's what it took for the Team USA Under-20 squad in the World Jr. to prevail over a more talented Canada team last month, and if the U.S. men's team is going to capture Olympic gold, they must not change the formula.

Ultimately, though, it's going to come down to Miller staying on top of his game.

WHL Roundup with Red Line Report WHL Scout Mike Remmerde, Pt. 2

I'm back with the next five of Red Line's top-ranked WHL players for the 2010 draft. I hope you enjoyed the previous post covering 1-5. Although I'd like to cover detailed ground on just about every draft-eligible from the Dub, I'm not going to get there from here.

So, without further ado- here is the Portland-based Mike Remmerde and his fresh observations on the best WHL players the 2010 class has to offer:

Brad Ross, LW Portland Winterhawks; 6-0, 173 28 May 92 (27th overall)

He's got more raw skills than people give him credit for, although I don't think that he has 1st-line skills. That said, he has that "swing forward" capability-- you can plug him on the 3rd line to be that high-energy, disrupting guy there, or you can have him on the 2nd line to help out offensively. Guys like that are not a dime-a-dozen and are pretty valuable because of the versatility they provide.

His skating's improved quite a bit as has his hand-eye coordination. Between him, Niederreiter and (Ryan) Johansen on that line, it's probably one of the great complementary lines in junior hockey. You have the flash of Niederreiter, the skill and playmaking of Johansen and the sandpaper grit of Ross. - Mike Remmerde

Stats through Feb. 27
GP- 63 G- 23 A- 35 PTS- 58 PIM- 185

Dylan McIlrath, D Moose Jaw Warriors; 6-2, 212 20 Apr 92 (29th overall)

Moose Jaw rolled through here (Pacific NW U.S.) last week and he disappointed me a little because he only got two-thirds of a Gordie Howe hat trick- - and it was the tough part-- with the goal and assist, but not a fight (laughs). In all seriousness, it was a tight, one-goal game, so the opportunity to drop the gloves didn't present itself, and his team hung on for the 8-7 win. He had a good game, and he's squarely in the top-four of Moose Jaw's defense right now.

One thing I noticed that he's picked up after watching him recently is how to effectively use his long reach. I had some of the same mental images I did two years ago watching Tyler Myers doing the same thing with that long, long reach. Of course, Myers is 6-8 and McIlrath 6-2, or 6-3, but it's the same kind of skill, and I have to say that the ability to smartly pokecheck is by itself a difference-maker. McIlrath is really good with the pokecheck. I saw him two times last week, and the Portland game was interesting because he was really solid in his own end. The offense a guy like this gives you now is pure gravy.

He has the chance to be a pretty good defenseman-- maybe a top-four in the NHL, maybe a solid No. 5 with the toughness to play for any team. Now, looking at this guy, you say 'You're going to spend a No. 1 pick on a No. 5?' Well, yes. NHL teams will do that on a guy with legitimate toughness who can fight, but is more of a hockey player than just a fighter. McIlrath's skating is good-- I don't think it is high-end, but I don't see any problems, either. His lateral agility isn't great, but he doesn't get beaten with speed, either. He exhibits very good gap control and is an outstanding open-ice hitter. - MR

Stats through Feb. 27
GP- 63 G- 7 A- 17 PTS- 24 PIM- 164

Alex Petrovic, D Red Deer Rebels; 6-4, 195 3 Mar 92 (30th overall)

Last year, I thought that Petrovic would be the guy that McIlrath has become. Petrovic is similar as one of these big, strong, tough defensemen, but he's not as crazy-- dropping the gloves as much or with the fervor that McIlrath has done this season. But, he projects solidly as a defensive defenseman at the next level.

Petrovic is a good skater with some untapped potential because I see him playing in a lot of situations for Red Deer. He's used on the power play, he's used on the penalty kill. He's out there when the game is close, he's out there late when holding a lead. He gets a lot of PP time and has a good shot.

For a guy who's 6-4, he's a good skater; rugged with some upside. He'll be attractive to NHL teams. -MR

Stats through Feb. 27
GP- 50 G- 6 A- 17 PTS- 23 PIM- 83

Ryan Johansen, C Portland Winterhawks; 6-2, 188 31 Jul 92 (34th overall)

It all started for him last year in Penticton, when he really started to figure it out late in the season and played his way up to the second line and then was the Vees' best forward in the playoffs.

He may have had a late growth spurt, too, because at the beginning of this year, his stride was a little awkward and at times, he seemed a little off-balance, but I don't see any of that from him these days. Now, he's turning up the dynamic side of his game. He's made some fantastic rushes of late-- the solo part of his game has taken off and he's shooting the puck more now and doing things that he wasn't doing at the beginning of the year. He was always good at taking hits to make the play, but he wouldn't throw a hit or initiate contact much. Now, he's going into the corners more and not only throwing big hits, but coming out with the puck a lot. It'll be interesting to see how he does in the playoffs.

He's big, broad shouldered with a lot of room to fill out, and has fantastic passing ability. In the first half, I saw him as maybe a 15-goal, 60-assist guy in the NHL, but in the second half, he's been shooting the puck more, so he might project even better offensively. There's a lot to like about him, especially if he keeps progressing like he has. -MR

Stats through Feb. 27
GP- 64 G- 21 A- 39 PTS- 60 PIM- 47

Mark Pysyk, D Edmonton Oil Kings; 6-1, 181 11 Jan 92 (42nd overall)

He has all the skill in the world. He's an excellent skater-- real smooth with a long stride and good agility for a guy who's 6-1. He does everything you want-- seems to have great hands, puck ability and the ice time to be a productive player. But, he doesn't get it done offensively.

Also of concern is that he's very passive. He doesn't seem to play with any passion at all. He's kind of soft, too. If there's an even battle for a loose puck, he usually comes out on the short end. He's now down with a broken bone...I don't remember what the exact injury is, but he's out for the rest of the season.

But, what I saw from him was kind of the same as last year. Granted, you're watching a player who's in his 16-year-old year, so you're looking ahead a bit. But I remember thinking, 'I know he's on a bad team and all, but he really should have more points than he does given all the power play time he's getting.'

He's just underwhelming. When I watch him, I don't see any of the intensity and desire that, if coupled with his physical attributes and hockey skills, would make him a force at that level. - MR

Stats through Feb. 27
GP- 48 G- 7 A- 17 PTS- 24 PIM- 47

Here's a special thanks to Mike for taking so much time to give me his skinny on the WHL's top talent. Granted, it's one scout's opinion, but he's got a fine track record established from years of working the beat.

With 10 players inside Red Line's top-50, there is a very good chance that the Bruins will go back to the WHL and grab at least one if not more of these players in the draft. Whether it is Niederreiter, McIlrath or someone else, the Dub's been a historically fertile proving ground for prospects and this year looks to be no different.

Friday, February 26, 2010

WHL Roundup with Red Line Report WHL Scout Mike Remmerde, Pt. 1

The Red Line Report is, in my view, the premier independent scouting service out there, now in its 17th year of publication and based out of Lake Placid, NY. Red Line created the business model that others have followed, styling itself as the NHL's "31st" team, rating draft prospects top-to-bottom every year the same way the big league clubs do. (Of course Red Line's rankings are based purely on talent and upside plus intangible factors- they don't have the same kind of economic/signiability concerns that real NHL teams do)

Chief scout and publisher Kyle Woodlief has NHL experience as a scout with the expansion Nashville Predators to draw from before taking over the reins of Red Line in 1998, but his staff, which has graduated multiple scouts to NHL teams over the years, forms the nucleus of an organization who get to the junior, collegiate, international games and tournaments on a global scale unmatched by any other. At times controversial for its candor, Red Line nevertheless understands the amateur scouting business like no other outside the NHL ranks, and provides a comprehensive look at the NHL's future on an annual basis.

Mike Remmerde has worked the WHL beat from the U.S. Pacific Northwest for Red Line since 1996-97, and there aren't many scouts who are more knowledgeable and have a solid read on the WHL (and BCHL) pulse than he does. I had the chance to talk to the Portland-based scout the other day and get a comprehensive breakdown of what is coming out of the WHL and Western Canada/U.S. in the first couple of rounds for 2010.

Here are some of his thoughts on the top WHL prospects (based on RLR's Feb. rankings)

Nino Niederreiter, RW Portland Winterhawks 6-1, 207, 8 Sep 92, (3rd overall)

He's a star here in Portland. The (Winterhawks) are assuming they'll have him for one more year (2010-11) if that because he's certainly got first-line offensive ability. He's so dynamic and can score in a lot of different ways. He's erasing that Swiss stigma- the reputation for producing soft players who aren't really committed to playing a North American-style game and don't make an impact in the NHL. Niederreiter and Luca Sbisa (who interestingly enough was traded to Portland in Jan.) are two guys who will have probably completely erased that stigma when all is said and done.

The problem with Niederreiter is his first couple of steps. He has good speed when he gets going and is able to get through the neutral zone, but his initial burst isn't what it could be. Other than that, there's nothing not to like. He can score in a variety of ways and he's a gritty guy who loves to throw the body around and is very effective in all zones.- Mike Remmerde

Stats through 26 Feb:
GP- 57 G- 33 A- 21 PTS- 54 PIM- 68

Emerson Etem, C Medicine Hat Tigers, 6-0, 195 16 Jun 92 (11th overall)

Etem's interesting because the first thing you have to mention about him is the skating. Everyone says he has fantastic speed, with an explosive initial burst and extra separation gear- all the things you want in a dangerous offensive player. Some look at his stride and say, "That is an ugly, awkward stride," but having seen how much speed he generates, I personally don't care because he still beats everyone down the ice.

He's still playing the game like an elite bantam player, which is something to watch. Normally, when players move up to the WHL, the skill level forces them to become more creative and work more within the team concept, and all of the flashy, individual things they could get away with in bantam go by the wayside. With Etem, he's still been playing a lot like he did as an elite bantam-- he hasn't had to make that adjustment yet. He's got that speed plus excellent hands in close...he's jsut a fantastic finisher in close. He's tremendous on special teams-- on the power play and he's also a very good penalty killer who's dangerous because he can anticipate the blocked shot, and then when he gets a step on the opposing player and beats him to the puck, he's gone.

On the downside, he doesn't initiate contact much, but he doesn't avoid traffic either. There is some risk to his game, though. He's got bust risk, which is different from Niederreiter, who may or may not be a top offensive player in the NHL, but will play because he can make it as a high-energy checker. Etem on the other hand might not make it because I'm not sure he'll be able to figure out the other parts of the game at even strength, and at a higher level when he can't just just beat people with his speed alone, will he figure out how to pass better, use his teammates more and make the adjustments in his approach that will allow him to develop into a scorer in the NHL?- MR

Stats through Feb 26
GP- 64 G- 33 A- 26 PTS- 59 PIM- 20

Brett Connollly, LW Prince George Cougars 6-2, 185 2 May 92 (14th overall)

It's been a tough year for Brett. I actually got to see him twice this year before the hip problems flared up for him. It's strange that he's the guy who's slipping because coming into the season, he was far and away the surest bet to come out of the WHL for the draft. The big question with the hips is it going to be chronic? When it was the one hip, you didn't hear a whole lot of concern, but now that he's having the same kind of problem with the other, that's kind of the exclamation point in everyone's minds-- now you're thinking that it's a congenital/structural problem and that's when he started to slide.

Hip problems aside, he's a complete player; his hockey sense is fantastic. He's very good skater, but he got even better this year than he was last season (when he scored 35 goals as a rookie). He's quicker off the mark, and he's especially good at handling the puck at top speed. He can pass well, uses his teammates effectively, plays well defensively and will backcheck, too. He's complete, he's elite, he's dynamic. He may not be as flashy as Niederreiter, so even with the concerns, I don't think he'll slide too far. NHL teams picking anywhere from 10-20 have to be excited at the prospect of getting him, even with the risk involved, because he'll be the only real legitimate top-line talent available there if he slides.- MR

Stats through Feb. 26
GP- 12 G- 7 A- 6 PTS- 13 PIM- 8

Calvin Pickard, G Seattle Thunderbirds 6-0, 207 15 Apr 92 (18th overall)

I think he's a first-round talent, absolutely-- he's just excellent. His older brother (Chet- first-round pick of Nashville in '08) was so good in the second half of that season and in the playoffs-- but Calvin has been playing at that level all year and on a pretty poor team. Some guys question his athletic ability, his raw quickness, but I take a different view. I think that because his positioning is so good, and he's so technically sound, he doesn't need to use that quickness as much. I think he has it, but he's just so advanced in terms of his positioning and staying square to the shooter that the reflexes don't jump out at you.

I think he's maybe had a lot of advanced (goaltending) coaching at a young age...either that or he got all the "how-to" goaltending DVDs and watched them religiously (laughs). But, seriously-- he's a guy who is so effective and keeps his team in every game, which is important because Seattle's just not very good. - MR

Stats through Feb. 26
GP- 54 MIN 3210 GAA- 3.03 W- 14 L- 29 T-11 SVS- 1714 SO- 3 SPCT- .914

Quinton Howden, LW Moose Jaw Warriors 6-2, 183 21 Jan 92 (22nd overall)

He's tough to figure out-- I'm still not sure what he brings. He's a big guy who doesn't play all that big. He's a fantastic skater and good shooter who plays with the right energy most of the time. But, he's still a hard guy to figure. He looks a little one-dimensional; he plays with Jason Bast and around Christmas when Bast got hurt and missed a couple of weeks, Howden really struggled offensively-- that's a concern. At the next level, he'll be around skilled guys, so maybe it's not an issue, but he's just someone I have a hard time getting passionate about. If I were sitting at an NHL table at the draft, I don't know that I'd be pounding the table for this guy.

I also wonder about his hockey sense a bit. A lot of his goals come from odd-man rushes and breaks from in behind the D where he can get in close and put it away, but I don't see a lot of creativity and puck distribution from him. Now that being said, he has a terrific shot-- that ability to shoot the puck would put him in the top-15 alone, but the other things about his game...that's why he's further down the list for me. - MR

Stats through Feb. 26
GP- 61 G- 27 A- 37 PTS- 64 PIM- 42

That's the WHL top-five. I'll be back later this weekend with Mike's thoughts on the next five: Brad Ross, Dylan McIlrath, Alex Petrovic, Ryan Johansen and Mark Pysyk.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Beau Bennett rising fast

American winger Beau Bennett is making a serious run for the first-round in the June draft.

The Penticton Vees' sniper led the BCHL in scoring this season, amassing 41 goals and 120 points in 59 games this season. The BCHL has produced some solid NHL talent over the years, including current Bruin fan favorite Milan Lucic, who skated for the Coquitlam (now Burnaby) Express the year before the team plucked him out of Vancouver of the WHL in the second round.

The Gardena, Calif. native will join Joe Colborne at Denver University next season (assuming Boston's top prospect doesn't turn pro at the conclusion of the current campaign) and has all the hockey skills and game-breaking ability you look for in a high-end talent. Bennett does not have the size, strength or disposition to play a physical game, but if you're looking for a potential 30-goal or more guy for the NHL, albeit one who is a longer-term project, then Bennett is an intriguing option.

Were he to slip into the second round, he's the ideal kind of player to spend that Toronto selection on, given his ability and upside. However, things being what they are, I'm guessing that by the time the draft rolls around, Bennett will probably go somewhere between 20-30. It's not outside the realm of possibility that the Bruins could use a couple of those early second picks and maybe a prospect to trade into the bottom portion of the first round (25-30) to give themselves three first-round picks for the first time since 1970 (when they had four selections in the first 13 back when there were 14 NHL teams). History lesson: The B's have had three first-rounders one other time (1969) and two first-rounders a total of five times in franchise history, with the last occurrence coming in 2000 when they busted with the selections of Lars Jonsson (7th) and Martin Samuelsson (27th). The two best double-first selection years happened in 1979 and 1997 when the B's drafted Ray Bourque and Brad McCrimmon and Joe Thornton and Sergei Samsonov respectively.

Bennett is a late-91 birthdate who registered one five-point game, and seven four-point contests with the Vees this season. His explosiveness and productivity sent the scouts flocking to see him all year.

I'll amend this posting when I can get ahold of Mike Remmerde of the Red Line Report, who's seen Bennett multiple times this season and can comment on the rookie's impressive year. (He's not given a ringing endorsement to Bennett's teammate and Boston's 7th-rounder Ben Sexton, however.)

26 FEB UPDATE: Here's Remmerde's observations on Bennett, and he's going to see him again this weekend for the first round of the BCHL playoffs, so I'll post anything further when I get it:

"Half of my notes on Bennett consist of phrases like, 'Wow, can he really shoot the puck!' That Penticton team looks for him on the ice all the time. The whole offense seems geared to him and getting him the puck for scoring chances in the good areas. He's slight- he's got a big frame, but has a lot of filling out to do. His projection if he's going to be an NHL player is probably as a top-two line guy or nothing at all. His skating is good- he's real agile but isn't a dynamic game-breaker in that regard. Where his strength lies is when the puck is down low on the cycle and at finding a way to get open, find open linemates and score that way rather than from a bunch of solo rushes. And to be honest, that speaks much better for him than if he were scoring on a lot of individualistic plays. The whole problem is trying to figure out a Tier 2 player because the goaltending is substandard at that level. Is a guy who is picking the corners on a Tier 2 goalie going to be able to do it when he moves up to that next level? To me that's the biggest difference between major junior and tier 2- the quality of goaltending. So, Bennett still has a lot to prove." - Mike Remmerde

Monday, February 22, 2010

Boston Bruins 2010 picks Updated: 22 Feb

Groundhog Day.

This is where we stood a week ago, but I'm nothing if consistent, so here's the reprint. We'll be back with the same deal next Monday, but the games will be back on tap on March 2nd, so the movement will then commence.

Oh, and I'll be in Boston to take in the B's-Leafs tilt on the 4th of March, then the NEPSIHA (prep) playoff tournament in Salem, N.H. and will catch some EJHL playoff games as well.

1st Round
2nd overall- Toronto (49 points; 19-31-11)
17th overall- Boston (65 points; 27-22-11)

2nd Round
32nd overall- Toronto
39th overall- Tampa Bay (63 points; 26-24-11)
47th overall- Boston

3rd Round
No Pick (To Buffalo for Daniel Paille)

4th Round
93rd overall- Carolina (55 points; 24-30-7)
107th overall- Boston** Conditional to Buffalo if Paille scores 16 goals

5th Round
137th overall- Boston*** Obligated to Buffalo if 16-goal condition not met to complete Paille trade

6th Round
167th overall- Boston

7th Round
197th overall- Boston

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Kabanov back with a bang...also check out Marek Hrivik

Out of the Moncton Wildcats' lineup since November with a severe wrist injury that surgery was needed to fix, super-skilled Russian left winger Kirill Kabanov returned to action this weekend and scored goals in consecutive games (both wins, and Moncton is up on Rimouski 2-0 today) to give him 7 goals and 16 points in 13 contests.

Kabanov, who came into the season as an odds-on favorite to land somewhere in the top-five of the 2010 NHL Draft now has a chance to boost his stock which had fallen off. When you're a puck wizard and high end scorer like Kabanov is, any damage to the wrist becomes a major red flag for NHL teams, who can't afford to invest the high picks and money to boot on damaged goods.

The Boston Bruins went through it firsthand with Sergei Samsonov, who suffered a wrist injury during the 2002-03 campaign after coming off of back-to-back 29-goal seasons, and he's never been the same dangerous player since. When so much of a player's effectiveness stems from the health and full use of his wrists, any kind of severe injury will scare teams off worse than the plague.

Also working against Kabanov is the fact that he's Russian. Yes, he's come over to North America and yes, he's a great kid by all accounts who speaks English well and has adjusted nicely to the culture, lifestyle and game in Moncton. But, he's still Russian, and with the way things went down with Nikita Filatov this year, some teams simply aren't going to roll the dice on him. Maybe if Kabanov's name was Carl Cabaniss and he were from the Maritimes as opposed to Moscow, his dynamic skill and upside might be enough to secure a top-five selection, but Kabanov will still have his work cut out for him to land there.

It's fantastic that he's back and appears to not be suffering the ill-effects of the surgery. Teemu Pulkkinen, who went through the same thing, appears to be finding the back of the net as well. So, that's good news for the guys who are going to have to be highly productive and competitive in a much shorter window of time in order to get the early call at the draft.

Kabanov has generated a lot of buzz and rightfully so, but it would take a major leap of faith by any NHL in the top-five to call his name in Los Angeles. Of course, if he goes on a scoring tear for the final games of the regular season, then helps the Wildcats deep into the QMJHL playoffs and contributes to an appointment in Brandon, Manitoba, where the 2010 Memorial Cup will be played, then anything is possible whether he's a risky Russian pick or not.

Another guy to watch on that loaded Moncton squad is Slovak forward Marek Hrivik, who was passed over last summer, but has been a decent scorer in his rookie Q season, finding the back of the net 23 times in 56 contests. Hrivik has good size (6-1, 191) skills and could get the call in the first three rounds in L.A. If not that high, then I would think at some point, for sure. In my opinion, Hrivik would have been a better option for Boston in the seventh round than forward Ben Sexton, last seen on the Penticton Panthers' (BCHL) third line, was. Sexton was a mediocre player for the Nepean Raiders in Ontario Jr. A in his draft year and according to a Western scout I talked to recently, he's been a mediocre player in British Columbia Jr. A as well. He's got a very good chance of being a mediocre player at Clarkson University next year and beyond. I guess I just don't get that pick.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

NHL Network to broadcast CHL games in U.S. beginning in March

I have just found out that the NHL Network will be televising several Canadian Hockey League (major junior) games across all three leagues (Western, Ontario and Quebec).

On March 7, the network will brodcast the WHL matchup between the Saskatoon Blades and Calgary Hitmen, with other games to follow in what is thought to be a weekly format, according to my source.

This is good news for people who live south of the border and don't have access to the games that feature the largest percentage of hockey talent selected by NHL teams in the draft each year.

Saskatoon and Calgary don't have any marquee prospects for the 2010 draft. Hitmen defender Matt McKenzie played in the Top Prospects Game and is projected as a second-rounder. Blades forward Curtis Hamilton was just lost for the season after breaking his collarbone. The big left winger came into the year looking like a late 1st-rounder, but has been injured for much of the year and this latest setback has to be a source of major frustration for him in his draft season.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Red Line drops Fowler in Feb. rankings, Hall gets called out

Red Line Report chief scout Kyle Woodlief has an interesting column up over at USA Today's website, a condensed version of his February rankings.

To boil it down, he's concerned about the lack of upside at the defense position, which underscores how things can change during the course of a hockey season. Back in November, I interviewed Kyle and the defense group looked pretty good at the time, with Cam Fowler having established himself as the cream of what was shaping up to be a good crop. Just three months later, Fowler has been pushed down by Minnesota native Derek Forbort of the U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18 Team, and Woodlief's assessment could serve as a wakeup call for Fowler to establish himself more as the player he has the talent and tools to be.

Also of interest are Woodlief's comments about Windsor forward Taylor Hall.

"Now, we don't dispute that Hall's rare offensive gifts give him the edge for the No. 1 overall slot in this year's draft. But we'd hate to be the NHL coach whose job it will be in a few months to rein in this selfish, immature winger with a head swelled so large that he can't fit through doorways and absolutely no concept of doing what's best for the team instead of thinking of himself."

I know that even with the unhappiness he expressed with Hall's attitude, Woodlief still believes Hall to be the best talent in the draft and knows that offensively, there are so many things Hall can do and do better than anyone else in his peer group. But, his scathing commentary about Hall is sure to generate controversy in the coming months.

Woodlief makes no apologies for his strong opinions, and you won't see him back away from anything he said. The interesting thing will be to see whether other NHL teams agree with him.

Also of interest is the mention of Kootenay defenseman Joey Leach. I'd actually heard of him before reading about him in the column, but that was thanks to an intrepid HFBoards poster named "Rumpy" who does a great job following the WHL and Western Canadian hockey and knows Leach, who hails from his hometown. Leach was not ranked on the CSS midterm list nor on Red Line's rankings prior to February, so I had to be honest with Rumpy, who suggested he might be worth a fourth-round pick, and nonconcur given Leach's lack of exposure. Well folks- looks like Rumpy was right again (he called Joe Colborne for Boston before the '08 draft for example) on this guy, who seems to be shaping up as a solid 4th or 5th selection because of his significant improvement in skating. Rumpy deserves credit, because he brought Leach to my attention via private channels, so I'm making sure that everyone knows that he was onto him before anyone else, present company included, was. Rumpy's insights on the WHL and draft prospects playing in that league are always worth reading.

So, there's a lot to digest in the latest Red Line column from Woodlief. I can't say I agree with him dropping Fowler, but he and his staff have seen him a lot more than I have.

For more on Red Line, you can visit their website at

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Here come the little guys

In recent years, the Bruins have focused more on drafting forwards with size and skill. Joe Colborne, Max Sauve, Jordan Caron and Tyler Randell are examples of this Boston trend, but it doesn't mean that they'll ignore smaller skilled players, either. Kris Versteeg was a fifth-round pick by the Bruins who panned out as a solid NHL player...just not for them. Brock Bradford, on the other hand, was not signed and now plays in the Colorado Avalanche system with their Lake Erie AHL affiliate. And of course, don't forget about Phil Kessel, thanks to whom so much of the buzz this blog is capitalizing on is repsonsible for.

The Bruins have shown a willingness to draft undersized players, and the post-lockout NHL is a place where said players can succeed and flourish so long as they have the skills to do so. Here is a quick look at some of the draft's better talents who all stand 5-foot-10 or shorter. The B's will likely use second-round picks or later when determining value and deciding whether to opt for a smaller prospect, but anything can happen. These are names you should at least be familiar with come draft day. If Boston doesn't grab them, somebody will!

Vladimir Tarasenko, RW Novosibirsk (KHL) 5-10, 175

On pure talent alone, Tarasenko is a top-five pick in this draft. He's an explosive skater who goes 0-60 in about 2-3 strides, has magical hands and the ability to dictate the offensive tempo everytime he takes a shift. Ten years ago, he'd be considered a lock for No. 3 or 4 honors in this class, but because of challenges in signing Russian players and even keeping them in North America and happy with their situation, fewer NHL teams are willing to accept risk with early 1st-rounders anymore.

Mikael Granlund, C HIFK Helsinki (Finland SM-Liiga) 5-10, 178

A mediocre World Jr. Championship (Under-20) tourney for the smallish but uber-skilled Finn dropped his stock a bit, but it's getting back up there largely on the strength of his 30 points in 31 games (nine goals) playing against men in his country's highest pro league at 17. When you compare him to other players from Finland and what they were doing at the same age, he's in the upper stratosphere. An OK skater (he lacks blazing speed), he nonetheless has terrific hands, vision and hockey sense. In fact, his on-ice IQ is right up there with the very best and I would say it compares to Washington Capitals all-star Nicklas Backstrom. At this stage, Granlund is a sublime passer, but he's showing that he can finish with aplomb as well.

Jeff Skinner, C Kitchener Rangers (OHL) 5-10, 197

I've made no bones about how impressed I am with Skinner and his potential simply because he's about as pure a goalscorer as they come, but he lacks the dynamic speed, size and game-breaking physical dimensions that most of the top scoring forwards in every draft come with. Skinner has 41 goals in 55 games with the Rangers this season, but he's small and a little on the slow side. Still, he was a former figure skater, so he has tremendous balance and is pretty shifty as a result. He also has the Midas touch with his shot (it's also very accurate- he can wire it just about anywhere in that 4 x 6 cage at will) and knows where to be on the ice. His compete level is uneven, so that's something he needs to work on, otherwise, he might be considered a solid top-10 candidate. The NHL's Central Scouting Service made an egregious error having Skinner 47th on their midseason rankings, and I expect he'll be closer to 30 on their final list, as you simply cannot ignore his production. I would say that if Skinner drops anywhere past 15th overall, whoever gets him has a steal on their hands.

Joey Hishon, C Owen Sound Attack (OHL) 5-10, 178

Hard-luck pivot has missed a lot of games this season due to a broken foot. After scoring 37 goals and 81 points last season as a 16-17 year-old, Hishon had high expectations coming into this year, and although the two months on the shelf haven't helped, if he can stay healthy and productive the rest of the way, he could be a solid 1st-round pick. Superb skater who is as elusive as he is fast, he has the kind of puckhandling skills which make him a threat to score in all situations. Needs to get stronger, but if he slides into the second-round, he's likely a solid value pick anywhere because of his dynamic upside.

Ryan Spooner, C Peterborough Petes (OHL) 5-10, 177

Another super-fast, game-breaking scorer from the Ontario League, Spooner showed what he is capable of in the CHL Top Prospects Game, when he finished off a 2-on-1 break with Taylor Hall. Spooner has excellent speed and always keeps his feet moving, which is sure to earn him high marks from scouts. He may not quite have Skinner's natural touch around the net, but he's got the wheels and intensity to make NHL teams forget about his small, light frame. He hasn't had a lot of help in Peterborough this year scoring-wise, but he's shown to have the kind of character and ability to come through despite increased checking pressure that makes him a player to watch, especially if he slips out of Round One. Author's Note- A broken collarbone suffered by Spooner in January will probably impact his draft status negatively. With him out for the most crucial period of time for a team trying to make the OHL playoffs means that Spooner will likely end up becoming a nice value pick for a good team that otherwise would not have had a shot at him were he playing and contributing to the Petes' playoff run. Bad break for Spooner and Peterborough, because the kid has the goods. 2/19/10

Jason Zucker, C U.S. NTDP U-18 (USHL) 5-10, 175

The World Jr. standout from Team USA will probably become the first native Nevadan (born and trained) to be drafted in June. Where he shakes out is still open to debate, but some teams have him pushing late 1st/early 2nd boundaries. He's got a nice jump in his stride and plays a high-energy style of two-way hockey. Zucker also showed a scoring touch as his team's youngest player in Saskatoon. He's committed to University of Denver next season, and is very much a work in progress, but is one to watch for his skill and tenacity.

Jordan Weal, C Regina Pats (WHL) 5-8, 165

He is generously listed at 5-8, but is probably closer to 5-6. Although he has 26 goals and 80 points in 60 games with the Pats this year, some scouts aren't sure that his production will translate in the pros. He's not a bad skater, but he's not a burner either, which, at his size, is a concern. He's got outstanding vision and hockey sense, but his overall skill level is above average, which will evoke comparisons to Zach Hamill, who was a productive player in the Dub, but has yet to do it in the pros after being Boston's top pick (eighth overall) three years ago. Author's Note- I am not comparing the playing styles of Hamill and Weal, merely observing that both put up very good offensive numbers in the WHL, but lack the kind of high-end speed/skills teams look for in smaller players. You have to like Weal's feistiness and spunk, but it will take quite a leap of faith for any team to draft him high. At mid-second round, his value starts to increase, however. Anywhere before that, and he's a risk.

Teemu Pulkkinen, RW Jokerit (Finland Jr.) 5-10, 172

A severe wrist injury dropped Pulkkinen's stock, but he's back in action and recently did very well for Team Finland at the Six Nations Tournament in Belarus. Not a fast skater by any means, he is a lot like Skinner in that he knows where he needs to go on the ice and can really find the back of the net with his pro-release and offensive instincts. His stock is rising now that he's showing no real ill effects of the surgery, but to put it in perspective, he's scoring in the junior leagues (although he did get 12 games in with the senior team- 1 goal), while his countryman Granlund is doing it against men to a very high level. As good as Pulkkinen's upside is, that should guive you an idea where Granlund grades out.

Michael Bournival, C Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL) 5-10, 180

Another honest player who works hard and is productive, but lacks the speed and high-end skills that would make NHL clubs want to take an early chance on him. Similar to Patrice Bergeron in his draft year, however. Doesn't get a lot of attention, but earns high praise for his work ethic and hockey sense. If he can pick up an extra couple of steps, it could give him more of a shot to succeed at the next level, albeit it in more of a tertiary role. He may not have Bergeron's soft hands, however.

Christian Thomas, RW Oshawa Generals (OHL) 5-9, 171

Son of former NHL 40-goal man (and 421 for his career) Steve Thomas, he's a chip off the old block in the scoring department, having lit the lamp 30 times in 52 contests this season. Like Skinner and Weal, he's not a burner, but just knows where to go and be to make things happen offensively. Has a powerful shot that he gets a lot of torque on despite his lack of stature. Real soft hands and finish in close. Quietly becoming a prospect, but the lack of size and high-end skills will limit the pre-draft buzz on him. Could be a steal anywhere after the third round.

Brandon Hynes, RW Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL) 5-8, 170

Diminutive Newfie is a one-way offensive force who can really put the puck in the net. His lack of diligence in his own end will drop him at the draft, as he's too one-dimensional to be considered a legitimate top-two round candidate given his size limitations. Still, he's tallied 38 goals in 58 games for les Tigres, and was recently named the QMJHL's Offensive Player of the Week. Like Thomas, he can generate a lot of power on his shot, and he gets it off quickly. He also tends to play a perimeter game and doesn't go into traffic all that much.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Boston Bruins 2010 picks and Trade deadline analysis Updated: February 15

Well, all of the NHL games are now in the books and Olympic hockey is upon us for the next two weeks.

It's going to be an interesting trade deadline, seeing how the Olympic trade freeze is only lifted on Feb. 28, with the deadline coming the following Tuesday, March 2. That's going to narrow the trade market, as so many teams are still on the cusp of playoff contention. Two weeks of hockey counting in the NHL's standings might have winnowed the competition a bit, but because the clubs are essentially in limbo, I believe that there will be a ripple effect that could translate into one of the least active and productive trade deadline days of all time.

Recent trade rumors linked the B's and Columbus Blue Jackets, with Peter Chiarelli reportedly expressing interest in winger Raffi Torres. The problem with acquiring the speedy 19-goal scorer (who's hit 27 markers and a high of 41 points in a single season just once) is that he's one more complementary piece who isn't going to make the Bruins any kind of real contender. Moreover, because it is a seller's market, Columbus GM Scott Howson's asking price is said to be prohibitive, and this for a soon-to-be unrestricted free agent who would most likely be a rental given Boston's relative lack of cap space.

Also rumored in trade talks is reigning Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas, who has sat on the bench while super rookie Tuukka Rask has picked up the ball and run with it over the last six games, going 4-0-2 for a total of 10 out of a 12 possible points and seventh place in the East. Thomas is not likely to waive his no-trade clause in mid-season, but if the Bruins are serious about giving the starting job to Rask going forward, then a trade could materialize over the summer. It's a tough spot for a club who rewarded Thomas's performance and loyalty, but who have seen their investment struggle behind an anemic offense, while his counterpart 13 years younger has flourished. Thomas will be 36 in April and has another three years left on a deal that will pay him $15 million, so finding takers without the B's bringing back a big contract will be difficult.

What does it all mean? I'm no soothsayer, but I do believe that Chiarelli is trying to make some kind of move that will establish some longer-term payoff. If the team were a Torres-type player away from contending, he might have pulled the trigger by now, but the B's have more holes to fill beyond a serviceable gritty winger, albeit one who has had a pretty mediocre NHL career after being the fifth overall selection ten years ago.

Don't expect anything major to happen for Boston in two weeks. There won't be many teams selling off assets with upside at this point, so it may be best for the GM to stand pat. I've said before that an addition from Edmonton like Andrew Cogliano or Sam Gagner, or maybe even underachieving power forward Peter Mueller from Phoenix is the kind of deal worth surrendering more of a sizeable price for, but Chiarelli is better off passing on aging, overpriced offerings like Torres and Carolina forward Ray Whitney.

Here are the 2010 B's draft picks if the season ended today:

1st Round
2nd overall- Toronto (49 points; 19-31-11)
17th overall- Boston (65 points; 27-22-11)

2nd Round
32nd overall- Toronto
39th overall- Tampa Bay (63 points; 26-24-11)
47th overall- Boston

3rd Round
No Pick (To Buffalo for Daniel Paille)

4th Round
93rd overall- Carolina (55 points; 24-30-7)
107th overall- Boston*
* Conditional to Buffalo if Paille scores 16 goals

5th Round
137th overall- Boston

6th Round
167th overall- Boston

7th Round
197th overall- Boston

Ooh- hey! 13 followers...we're getting there.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

What I really want for Valentine's Day... more followers.

According to the listing at right, I have just nine intrepid folks hanging on my every word.

Really? REALLY?

C'mon folks, tell your friends and significant others about this great blog and source for draft info. and Bruins history. And don't forget, you can check out my work at my primary hockey writing gig at

Do I sound desperate? OK, you win.

I hope you all had a nice day with your sweethearts. Happy Valentine's Day, everyone.

Evgeni Kuznetsov on the rise; 6 Nations recap

He may have been a pleasant surprise at the World Junior Championship (Under-20) last month, but the cat is officially out of the bag on Russian winger Evgeni Kuznetsov, who just tore it up at the 6 Nations (Under-18) Tournament in Belarus.

The last major international competition before April's Under-18 Championship, the 6 Nations (Belarus, Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Sweden and USA) had a lot of 2010 draft eligibles, and Kuznetsov was named the top forward after scoring six goals and nine points in five games in taking the 6 Nations Cup with a 5-0 record. The Russians beat USA in a 2-1 nailbiter, leaving the Americans to finish the tourney with a 4-1 record.

Kuznetsov has average size (5-11, 170 pounds) but is an explosive skater with very soft hands who is able to score highlight reel goals at will. He's not the most intense of players, but there is no arguing with his skill set. I was impressed with him at the WJC, and wrote up a scouting report on him that you can read here.

The rumor I've heard about Kuznetsov this season is that he wants very badly to come over to North America next season and play major junior hockey, so if that's the case, expect him to be one of the top picks in the June CHL Import Draft.

Other players in the 6 Nations who made name for themselves were Finnish forward Teemu Pulkkinen, who started the season as one of the favorites to crack the top-10, but dropped far when he suffered a significant wrist injury that shelved him for more than three months. He's back now and scoring goals in the Finnish Jr. league, and he tallied five goals in as many games for Team Finland in this tourney, so this will help his draft status. An undersized player who is not a great skater, Pulkkinen is nonetheless one of those natural goal scorers who has a lethal release, uncanny accuracy and simply finds a way to get himself into position to generate quality scoring chances in every game.

Jason Zucker finished second to Matt Nieto (2011 eligible) in scoring on Team USA, and has continued his strong international play after a gold medal at the WJC in Saskatoon. Not to be outdone was goalie Jack Campbell, who continued his winning ways by posting a 3-0 record with a 1.67 GAA and .919 save percentage. More on Zucker and Campbell here. Another potential high pick in 2011 for Team USA, Brandon Saad, had a decent tournament based on reports. He's huge and very skilled, but pretty one-dimensional at this point.

Bill Arnold (Needham, Mass.), who left Nobles and prep hockey for the U.S. NTDP this year and is headed to Boston College next fall, finished with a solid 2 goals, 5 points in as many games. I'll be talking to him this week when he returns to Ann Arbor from Minsk, as he will be the featured player in the March issue of New England Hockey Journal's monthly Prospects Pulse column. After a slow start with the U.S. Under-18 Team, Arnold has improved significantly and is gaining confidence in the USHL and international play. He's a solid skater with good offensive skills and has some upside.

Swedish goalie Johan Gustafsson, one of the top European goalies in this draft class, had a disappointing tournament, posting a 1-2 record and .881 save percentage.

Another player to keep an eye on for the 2012 draft is 16-year-old forward Martin Frk, who led the Czech Republic in scoring with three goals and five points. He's garnering some attention in his native country, and if he continues to develop, he could be a household name by this time next year, even though he'll still be another year away from being drafted.

But it was Kuznetsov grabbed the spotlight, even getting into several fights in leading his team to the best record of the tourney. He impressed a lot of folks at the WJC, so this is one more feather in his cap. If not for the fact that there is a lot of risk with drafting Russian players given the lack of transfer agreement and other issues, I'd say Kuznetsov would be a slam-dunk for being picked in the top-30, but at the rate he's going, he may yet sneak into the first round. If not, some team would probably do well to invest a second-round selection on him, even with the questions.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

B's reach Olympic break on high note

The Bruins are winners of four consecutive road games tonight after old man Mark Recchi closed out the Florida Panthers in a 3-2 shootout win, his 1550th career NHL game, moving him past Detroit Red Wings great Alex Delvecchio for ninth on the all-time games played list.

Recchi, who deflected a Dennis Wideman shot/pass into the net late in the third period to tie the score at two goals apiece, said after the game that his shootout move was something he worked on with B's assistant coach Geoff Ward, who suggested he take a page from former Atlanta/Calgary Flames 1980's scoring star Kent Nilsson (he also played for Minnesota and Edmonton). It worked with Recchi getting only his second shootout goal in 14 career attempts.

Also key to this win was the play in net of Tuukka Rask, who continues to win the love and admiration of Bruins fans for his cool, effective performances in six straight starts. I said that Claude Julien shouldn't throw him to the wolves with the way the B's were playing in their 10-game losing streak, but it's a good thing CJ doesn't read this blog. Rask has been outstanding.

So, here we are: the 2010 Winter Olympic Games are upon us, and for NHL hockey fans, that means a two-week hiatus from league play while the circuit's best go head-to-head in a quest for gold.

The important thing is that the Bruins played themselves up five spots from 12th place in the conference a week ago, to seventh, and for two weeks at least, they're in the postseason.

As an added bonus, the point Florida got puts them nine points ahead of idle Toronto.

With the Bruins off, this blog's focus will shift to covering many of the names of players available in the June draft.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Song sung blue

Toronto got pasted tonight by the St. Louis Blues, 4-0.

The Blues scored a pair of shorthanded goals in the second to take a 3-0 lead, one of them coming from former Leaf Alexander Steen.

I hate to say I told you so, but Toronto's lack of offense is going to make a bad season even more miserable. Their defense, though clearly improved with Dion Phaneuf and J.S. Giguere, can't compensate for their now-anemic offense with all the forwards who left to bring them in.

So, the Olympic break is here for the Leafs. They won't play again until March 2nd, and they'll have to stew over their 19-31-11 record. With only 21 games left, they're going to have their hands full climbing over many of the teams ahead of them in the standings. They're in the 29th spot for now, with Edmonton quietly creeping up on them, just five points behind with a game in-hand.

Leafs fans have to be sickened by what they've seen from their team this season, and knowing that they'll hand over their first- and second-round picks to Boston is a kick in the groin. The one thing you have to look forward to during a basement-dwelling season is the draft, so with even that small comfort robbed from them, Leafs Nation can only console themselves with the big names who recently joined their team, nevermind the fact that Phaneuf and Giguere alone can't cure what ails that club.

Bruins Sweaters of the Past #11: Peter McNab

BOSTON BRUINS 1976-77-1983-84
6'3", 210
Born: May 8, 1952 in Vancouver, British Columbia
Games Played: 595 Goals: 263 Assists: 324 Points: 587 PIM: 111

Peter McNab, a Denver University standout, came to Boston via the Buffalo Sabres on June 11, 1976 when his rights transferred as compensation for the Sabres signing Andre Savard away from the B's.

The son of former NHL player and GM Max McNab, he made an immediate impact with the B's in his first season, scoring 38 goals and 86 points in 80 games, finishing second to Jean Ratelle for the team lead in 1976-77.

He inherited Ken R. Hodge's No. 8 after Hodge was sent to the NY Rangers for Rick Middleton, and wore it with honor, becoming one of Boston's most consistent and productive goal scorers in seven full seasons during the Big, Bad Bruins era. McNab would go on to post 41 and and 40 goal seasons in 1978 and 1980, while hitting the 30-goal plateau in every full season with the B's except for 1982-83, when he scored 22 times. In 1983-84, he was dealt to the team of his birthplace, the Vancouver Canucks, in exchange for Jim Nill.

McNab was an outstanding postseason scorer for the B's, tallying 38 goals in 74 career playoff contests.

Nill and then John Carter would briefly wear No. 8 after McNab departed, but in June, 1986, Cam Neely came to town and the digit now hangs from the rafters in Neely's honor.

This sweater is a Stall & Dean size 54 home model worn by McNab between 1978 and 1980. It has heavy wear and use, with multiple team repairs, red dasher paint transfer and holes. The nameplate was removed at some point and not restored, but given the sweater's era, there is no doubt that McNab wore it. The Stall & Dean era from 1977-80, produced some of the finest Bruins sweaters available in the game-worn hobby.
Although McNab did not rack up a lot of penalty minutes in his Boston career, the abuse this sweater shows is a testament to the fact that he played the game tough and honest, spending a lot of time fighting for pucks along the boards and in front of the net.

Things looking up for B's?

The Boston Bruins survived Tampa Bay's furious comeback after the visiting team put the 'Bolts in a 5-0 hole last night, eking out a 5-4 win to go 3-0 on the four-game road trip before going on the two-week hiatus for the Olympics.

Steve Downie's second goal of the game cut Boston's once seemingly insurmountable lead to one with about three minutes left, and the Bruins barely weathered a storm in which the ice was tilted in their end, but Tuukka Rask held the fort in the final minute to give his team its third consecutive victory in his fifth straight start, giving the B's a tenuous hold on the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. If the season ended today, they'd be playing the Washington Capitals, who have lost two straight after putting together a franchise-record 14 consecutive victories.

But, Boston's win was big because it not only got them back into the playoff picture, but also impacted their 2010 draft by pushing Tampa Bay down in the standings. As has been documented in this space many times, the Bruins own Tampa's second-round pick by virtue of the Mark Recchi trade at the deadline last March, so the worse the 'Bolts do, the higher the selection will be. At one point, when Tampa had the fifth-worst record in the league, that pick would have been 35th overall, so if it is anywhere under 40 when the season is over, that will be good news for the B's.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are playing the St. Louis Blues on the road tonight, and folks can only hope that J.S. Giguere doesn't have another of his shutout moments. While the Leafs cannot catch anyone ahead of them in standings prior to the two-week Olympic break, any chance for them to lose points makes it that much more probable that Boston will end up with a top-three selection. There's a nice thread over at Hockey's Future Boards in which a poster named "orrovergretzky" has a mathematical magic numbers formula consisting of adding Toronto losses to wins from teams above them in the standings like Carolina, Columbus, the Islanders, etc. that will lock the pick in the top-2. For those who like dealing with those "magic numbers" type scenarios, it's worth tracking at:

It's funny, but to read the comments of some Bruins fans on the internet last night and today, you'd have thought the team had lost. While the near-collapse was certainly troubling, to me it simply underscored that which most of us have come to realize already: this team is not a true contender this year. There are simply too many holes to fill and needs to address for Peter Chiarelli to expend critical assets in what would amount Quixotic quest for a Stanley Cup in 2010.

Now having said that, he should still try and make some kind of change if not to make the club significantly better this season, but give it a chance to improve over the long term. I'm no GM, but if he can start to re-tool and tweak the team before the off-season, then it's something worth doing, because as constituted, this year's version of the Boston Bruins, assuming they make it to the postseason, isn't likely to get very far.

Of course, this all falls in the easier said than done category, but the Bruins should look at being more of a seller than a buyer at the deadline, and the GM should resist the urge to part with his premium 2010 high draft selections to bring in overpriced (on the trade market) rental players. A 2nd round pick (in 2011) for Dominic Moore? That's what new Montreal GM Pierre Gauthier gave up for the journeyman forward and soon-to-be UFA, and if that's the going rate, Chiarelli is better off not bothering.

Now, I'm not a "hold onto draft picks at all costs" kind of guy, but if you're using them to go out and bring in past-his-prime graybeards for 20 or so games plus playoffs, that's probably not a great use of assets. If the GM is going to move any of those 1st- or 2nd-round picks in 2010, then he needs to do so in a sizeable package that will bring back a young, skill player with long-term potential to make the Bruins better, not an aging vet who will give the team a modest increase in talent, but isn't enough to cure a lot of what ails this club.

This draft is considered by many to be pretty deep, and the Bruins' prospects cupboard, beyond the center position, needs restocking. (Although I do think goaltender Mike Hutchinson is a pretty underrated prospect and is a lot better than he gets credit for)

For now, things are looking up, but for how long? The environment around the team when it went through it's 10-game losing streak was miserable, and the Bruins could just as easily go on another extended skid after the Olympics. As the old adage goes, sometimes the best trades are the ones you don't make, so if you're like me and don't see this club being able to get past a team like the Capitals or Devils in the first round without more than just one modest token veteran addition, Chiarelli's best bet may be to sell off one or two of his underperforming players or prospects who don't look like they'll have a chance at cracking the lineup anytime soon for more future assets rather than squander the ones he already has.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Interview with Windsor Spitfires defenseman Cam Fowler

Here is the transcript from the interview I conducted with Cam Fowler of the OHL's Windsor Spitfires before practice.

Fowler is the No. 3 North American Skater on the Central Scouting Service's midseason rankings and has been catching a little flak on internet message boards for what is perceived as a lack of upside because he hasn't played a flashy, dominant game in certain national televised viewings such as the World Jr. Championship and the CHL Top Prospects Game.

I'll relay what an NHL scout once told me and that is: you can't really gain a true appreciation on a player unless you see him live. Television is a start and gives a baseline, but so much happens behind the play and when a player doesn't have the puck.

It's a sage reminder of the importance of live scouting and why the guys in the profession log thousands of miles on the road in bad weather throughout a season to see these kids play in person.

Here's the transcript of the talk with Fowler:

Bruins2010DraftWatch: Congratulations on the big win at the World Junior Championship last month. What are some of the things you think are what helped propel you and your teammates to the gold medal in Saskatoon?

Cam Fowler: It was an unbelievable experience to be on such a great team with so many great players and friends. I think it just started right from the get-go at summer camp with Coach (Dean) Blais in August. He was already talking to us about how good it was going to feel to win gold on Canadian soil and he and the other coaches showed a lot of confidence in us as players. We bought into the systems (they wanted us to employ) and were ready to go. Another thing that helped was the fact that many of us are really close-- like a family. I think that closeness off the ice had a positive effect on the way we played on the ice and we just kind of took it from there and got great contributions from everybody.

B2010DW: How has your first season of major junior at Windsor gone?

CF: It's been a great season so far. I had a smooth transition coming to Windsor-- the guys on the team welcomed me with open arms and the coaching staff, too. Everyone's been great, and I'll include my billet family; they've been terrific in helping me to settle in, and I think that when you're comfortable, everything just falls into place. We have a lot of elite players, guys who won a Memorial Cup last year and understand what it takes to win at this level, so I've just tried to fit in to the best of my ability, listen to the coaches and have fun.

B2010DW: Ryan Ellis is a tremendous talent and veteran defenseman in the OHL. How has he helped your transition this year?

CF: Yeah, he really is a great player and teammate. Ryan's become one of my best buds off the ice, and like I said before, when you're close friends with your teammates off the ice, that all just translates when you're playing the games. But Ryan has been great to me; he took me under his wing when I got here and showed me around Windsor and really helped me to fit in with the team. We don't play a lot together on the ice, but we do work the power play. He's been in the (OHL) since he was a young kid, so he has so much experience and skill, and has taught me a lot.

B2010DW: I understand that you were born in Windsor, but are a dual-citizen. How did your decision to play for USA Hockey come about?

CF: Yes, I was born in Windsor, but when I was about one-and-a-half, my dad (Perry) got a job transfer (with Ford Motor Company) and we moved to Michigan. My dad is Canadian; he was born in Newfoundland and went to school at McMaster and then the University of Windsor. My mom (Bridget) is American from Grosse Point (a suburb of Detroit). I think the fact that I just grew up in Michigan and was a part of USA Hockey and later the National Team Development Program made it the right choice for me.

B2010DW: How beneficial was your time in Ann Arbor with the U.S. NTDP in preparing you for the OHL?

CF: It was huge. That’s one of the best programs in the world in terms of development. I went in as a skinny, underdeveloped 16-year-old and came out not only prepared for hockey, but for life. The big thing is the international experience. Not too many kids get to go to Russia, Slovakia and Sweden and play against the best players in the world for their age group. It really helped me to get that experience that I would not have gotten in any other program at that age.

B2010DW: Who are some of the guys you were closest with while a part of the program?

CF: That's difficult to answer with just a few names because I was with the same guys for two years and we became brothers. I roomed with Jerry D'Amigo. But I was also very close to Kenny Ryan, Kevin Lynch and Jeremy Morin. But there were so many great guys I got to know there.

Kenny is here in Windsor with me this year, which has been great because we've been teammates going back 10 years when we both played our minor hockey for Honeybaked. It's always nice to have a great friend when you're with a new team going through the same things you are. And, I've managed to keep in touch with "Jet" (Morin), who's playing in Kitchener this season. It's been different seeing him in another uniform, and we're actually playing them tomorrow, so I'm looking forward to the game. The Rangers are one of our big rivals, so it will be all business when we take the ice, but I hope to get a chance to talk to him at some point.

B2010DW: Although your focus is clearly on the OHL right now, have you given any thought to the upcoming NHL draft and taking your first real step as a pro? Are you feeling any pressure with so much of the hype that seems to be surrounding you these days?

CF: Anytime there's those high expectations, you're going to feel a little bit of pressure. To be honest, it's something I've been dealing with with for a few years. With the draft so close, I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about it. At the same time, it’s all about the team in Windsor and trying to achieve our ultimate goals of winning an OHL championship and defending the Memorial Cup title, so that’s where my focus is; on my team and teammates and continuing to win games.

B2010DW: What are your best attributes?

CF: The best ability I have is my skating. It's just something that has been natural for me since I was young. The other things are my first pass; getting the puck up the ice quickly and joining the rush.

B2010DW: What are two things you need to work on the most?

CF: A couple of big things I'm working on is my phyisicality and being a little nastier on the ice, as that’s something that is expected at the NHL level. I’m also working on my defensive intensity and being more aware in my own zone. That’s something the coaches here have helped me with a lot.

B2010DW: Who are some of the toughest players you've competed against at home and internationally over the past two years and why?

CF: That's a tough one, but I'll say Taylor Hall first of all, because it was definitely a challenge for me to go from using him as a teammate to give him the puck to do his thing to having to stop him, because he's so fast and skilled. I appreciated his ability when I was playing with him in Windsor earlier in the season, but then to have to be on the other side and see all the little things he does, I think it made me a better player and made him a better player. I think the whole experience of going up against one another made us better players. And, I'm happy for him because he really did have a great tournament, and I'm happy with the tournament I had.

B2010DW: You didn't see them in last month's tourney, but you have had some tough matchups against Team Russia. What are your thoughts playing against them, going back to last spring's Under-18 Championship in Fargo?

CF: Yeah, they're a tough team to play against for sure. We learned our lesson in the first game of the round robin against them (in the Under-18 tournament). We got into a run and gun game with them and it cost us. We lost 6-5 and it really left a bad taste in our mouths. We'd had some issues with them going back to when I was a 17-year-old and we had a bench clearing brawl against them, so every time we played them, we wanted to put a hurting on them. And then after we lost the first game in Fargo, we heard that they were stomping on the American flag and things like that, so when we played them again in the championship game we wanted to send a message. So, I think we did that when we beat them 5-0.

B2010DW: Jack Campbell...

CF: Yeah, he's an unbelievable goalie. He's so young, but so composed and skilled. He's one of the best goalies I've ever played with for sure.

B2010DW: What was your favorite NHL team growing up and are there any players you tried to emulate or pattern yourself after?

CF: I liked the Montreal Canadiens...I wasn't a die-hard or anything. I just liked watching them. But the players I tried to emulate weren' on Montreal. I liked Nicklas Lidstrom a lot when I was a kid growing up and watching him play in Detroit. Another player I've always liked watching is Scott Niedermayer. I think I have some similarities to the way he plays, so those are the players I've always tried to watch and take something from over the years.


Buried under snow!

Well, the snowfall in our area has been steady and relentless since Friday, which has affected my internet connection among other things, so I'm sorry that I haven't had as many updates of late.

The good news is that I spoke to Windsor Spitfires' defenseman Cam Fowler today and will have a transcript of our interview up on the blog soon. I'm writing a more comprehensive feature for, but am waiting to hear back from Taylor Hall before that one hits the streets.

As I had heard through multiple sources, Fowler is extremely well-spoken and has a very mature outlook on hockey and where he's going. I have to think that if the Bruins are picking third, and he happens to be on the board, there's no way they'd pass on him.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Bruins 2010 draft picks update: 8 Feb

Sorry I'm late, folks- internet and cable was down here from early Saturday a.m. until tonight.

Missed Boston's shootout loss to Vancouver and the shutout win over Montreal over the weekend. Congratulations to Adam McQuaid on his first NHL goal. He's a guy who won't score many of 'em even when he does become a full-time big leaguer, but it is nice to see that the Lone Wolf got the winner against the hated Habs.

Now, for the pick update for the June draft (not taking the lottery into account):

1st Round
2nd overall- Toronto (49 points; 19-29-11)
10th overall- Boston (59 points; 24-22-11)

2nd Round
32nd overall- Toronto
40th overall- Boston
43rd overall- Tampa Bay (61 points 25-21-11)

3rd Round
None- Traded to Buffalo for Dan Paille

4th Round
93rd overall- Carolina (49 points; 21-30-7)
100th overall- Boston*
*Conditional pick awarded to Buffalo if Dan Paille scores 16 goals

5th Round
130th overall- Boston

6th Round
160th overall- Boston

7th Round
190th overall- Boston

Friday, February 5, 2010

Three guys you should know: Brandon Archibald, Stephen Silas and Julian Melchiori

If you're a Bruins fan and supporter who believes that the team needs to add skill and upside to the defense position, then a trio of Ontario-based defenders are worth keeping an eye on as the season progresses: Brandon Archibald, Stephen Silas and Julian Melchiori.

Archibald, who plays for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL, is a Michigander with a big frame (6-3, 205) who projects as a solid shutdown defender when he fills out. He's mobile and smart, and has been a dependable player on the blue line this season. He's not a fighter, but has shown a willingness to drop the gloves when challenged and has proven to be more than capable of holding his own. He may not have a big offensive upside, but he's a character player with the strong hockey skills to be a solid second-round projection right now.

I talked to a scout recently about him and this is what he said: "He's a young guy who's playing a big role on his team. He makes a good first pass and has a big (point) shot. I like him."

Silas is a two-way defenseman on the OHL's Belleville Bulls who doesn't have a lot of size (6-0, 180), but has been a consistent, steady presence for that club. He did participate in the CHL Top Prospects Game and while he didn't stand out, was solid.

"He's a smart puck mover," the scout said of Silas. "He's a calm guy with the puck who makes the right decisions. He's pretty good in his own end even if he isn't the biggest guy. He looks like a steady No. 4 defender (at the NHL level) if he keeps progressing."

Finally, Melchiori may be the most intriguing of the three.

At 6-3, 185, the late '91 birthdate has a lot of filling out to do, but is a superb skater playing for the Newmarket Hurricanes on the Ontario Jr. A circuit. He turned down a chance to play for the OHL's Oshawa Generals in favor of accepting a scholarship to UMass-Lowell (2010-11), and at last check, he's still committed to going the NCAA route.

"He's a very nice skater who is an offensive presence for his team," the scout said. "He's gotten way better as the year has gone on, and anytime you have a 6-3 guy who can move like he can, he's going to attract some attention."

Here's what Red Line Report had to say about Melchiori in their November issue, after he participated in the World Jr. A Challenge Tournament as a member of Team Canada East: "Tall, lanky defenseman is thin as a rail, but has surprisingly quick feet and acceleration...He's raw as hell, but has a nice frame to fill out and some pretty good tools."

All three are generating some buzz in scouting circles for their solid play and are probably worth following even though we're still smack dab in the middle of winter.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Nine losses and counting for B's...time to break out the Einstein

In my last post, I opined that it was time for Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli to make a change, any change to try and get the team on track.

He missed out on the Ilya Kovalchuk sweeps, which were won by the wily Lou Lamoriello and the New Jersey Devils, who didn't really surrender all that much for the sniper when you get down to it. But even after watching other teams make trades involving some pretty big names in the NHL, it isn't a requirement for Chiarelli to go out and make a big splash necessarily. He just needs to bring in one piece that will one day be part of a winning solution in Boston, but it's important that he take charge and make something happen because the players and the fans look like they're losing hope.

I've said that Andrew Cogliano or Sam Gagner, two pieces of a loser puzzle in Edmonton, might fit that bill. We're talking young players with speed and upside, who just haven't been able to make a difference on the only team that has been more moribund than Boston has since the calendar flipped over to 2010.

Boston's GM has chosen not to act, and tonight, his finest took a 2-0 lead thanks to Mark Recchi and Blake Wheeler, only to melt down for 39 seconds in the middle frame, allowing Glen Metropolit and Roman Hamrlik to tie it.

So once again, the Bruins and their fans are looking at a game in which the effort was there, but the finish wasn't Jaroslav Halak played a brilliant game in net, and while Tuukka Rask was very good at the other end, his teammates couldn't bail him out of the 3-2 shootout loss that saw former BC star Brian Gionta deke left, then flip the backhand into the net for the only tally, while Marc Savard was denied by Halak moments later.

Mr. Chiarelli...and, I'll try to put this as delicately as I can here... Your team is a gongshow. If you aren't thinking about selling, then perhaps you might want to start. Your blueprint just isn't working.

The only other thing I can think of to define the moment is something that the great Albert Einstein once said: "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

I've not seen nine consecutive losses by a Boston Bruins team in my lifetime. Not even during the darkest days of the 1997 cellar finish and the Dave Lewis fiasco a decade later. But, this team needs help, and we're looking at the same exact lineup night after night as the losses mount and the points slip away in the standings.

It's Chiarelli's job to figure out who might be able to help them at least get going in a respectable direction and then get it done.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Bruins are woeful...change needed

For all the focus this space has had on Toronto's failings throughout the season, the Bruins are giving the Leafs a run for their money when it comes to ineptitude.

After watching the Bruins lose to the Washington Capitals tonight, it has become clear to a lot of B's fans that Peter Chiarelli needs to do something, anything to change the face of his team because nothing is working.

The team can't score goals...that much has been known for quite some time, but the B's showed little life or fight after a great first period tonight gave way to a putrid final 20 minutes, which saw the Capitals score three goals (one empty netter) while the Bruins couldn't get anything past Jose Theodore. (Before I go on, let me tell you something about Theodore...I talk to him often here in D.C. and he's pretty open about his deep dislike of the Bruins. His hatred of them (fueled in his youth as a Montreal Canadiens fan) propels him to great lengths whenever he plays Boston. He still holds a deep-seeded grudge against them over Kyle McLaren's hatchet job against Richard Zednik in 2002, and Theodore showed it again tonight. The guy simply loves to play against...and beat the Bruins.)

Obviously, playing the top team in the East, who entered the game with a 10-game winning streak and boosted it to a franchise-record 11 consecutive victories, gave the Bruins little margin for error tonight. The home team took an early lead on a 5-on-3 power play, when David Krejci banked a shot off of Theodore's inside left pad, just squirting into the net. But that was it. Once former 700-pound line alum Mike Knuble tied it early in the second, you just hoped the Bruins would find a way to score again, but deep down inside, unless you're the ultimate optimist, you knew it wasn't coming.

The Boston GM misjudged his team. He assumed that the youngsters who played great last season would take the next step. He figured that Michael Ryder and Dennis Wideman would continue to anchor a solid veteran core after their 28-goal and 50-point seasons. He no doubt thought he had repeat winners in the troika of coach Claude Julien, defenseman Zdeno Chara and goaltender Tim Thomas. Julien and Chara are off their games, and Thomas, who is forced to playwith next to no margin for error each and every night (a crushing kind of pressure you have no idea about if you've never played the position), hasn't been as sensational as he was last season. Tuukka Rask has been outstanding as a rookie, but those screaming for him to take over as the starter on this team ask yourselves this: Do you really want Rask thrown into this pool of dreck? Think of the future, baby!

I'm stating the obvious here, but the fans aren't going to take much more of this. Even though Chiarelli is dealing form a position of weakness, I'm of the belief that it's time he did something.

I'm no fan of the deals Brian Burke made (and J.S. Giguere and Co. are making me look silly thus far, shutting out the Devils tonight, 3-0), but he at least did SOMETHING. Right or wrong...for better or worse. He made deals that the jury is still out on, and he could end up being lauded as a genius. In the midst of this "staganant" trade market, he found a way to pull the trigger and effect major change within his team and organization. Chiarelli cannot make excuses about the trade market any longer. Three big deals have gone down in the last 48 hours including the two Toronto made.

Now, I'm not saying he has to go out and pay a king's ransom to get a rental player in Ilya Kovalchuk, who isn't about to sign with anyone without keeping his options (and a potential return home to the KHL) open. I'm not even saying Chiarelli needs to make a season-saving move. That may be a bridge too far (and I'm not talking the Tobin either); I don't believe this team has it in them to be a serious contender, although they can clearly regain a playoff spot. But, the team, as constructed, is flawed and ineffective.

Trying to fix the offense on the cheap with Miroslav Satan was a failure. No harm done, because he didn't cost any assets beyond the money and cap hit it took to bring the former 40-goal man in for what has been a pretty mediocre audition. Satan is the Boston encore edition of Joe Murphy 10 years ago... remember him? Like Murphy, Satan is a washed-up former scorer who is good for the odd tally, but couldn't give a hoot about playing defense and ultimately isn't worth a spot on the top-three lines of any NHL playoff-caliber club.

Fans feel that it is time for Boston to make a change, and Ryder is a good place to start. The guy just doesn't play the kind of hockey that is going to win the Bruins enough games to justify his presence. He was a bad decision and it's time to cut him loose for cents on the dollar. Problem is- what team will want an underachieving streaky scorer who, when off his game, plays the kind of pathetic, uninspired hockey that brings back visions of Dmitri Khristich? Ryder is an easy scapegoat, but at this stage, he is what he is. Anyone who thinks he is worth the $4 million over three years that the Bruins outbid at least one other team to secure his services for hasn't watched Ryder this season, skating up and down the wing, misfiring on shots, failing to hit the net, and playing with an overall sense of malaise.

While no proponent of buy-at-a-premium with minimal results types of moves that see teams pay overinflated rates for declining veteran players, I do feel that some kind of change needs to be made, though. For the sake of the players who do care and who have given their all so far this season. Patrice Bergeron is really the only one who comes to mind right now, and I'm sure there are others.

It's hard to pile on with everyone else who's been clamoring for moves since the wheels started to come off earlier this year, when we saw that the offense was going to be hard to come by, and then crippling injuries to key players started to take their toll. I'm no hockey GM with a degree from Harvard Yard, but Chiarelli has surrounded himself with smart hockey guys who should be able to help him with some solutions.

Andrew Cogliano? Another underachiever on the NHL's bottom-feeder in Edmonton, but a player with real speed to burn who may just need a change of scenery to kickstart his game. Sam Gagner? Once coveted by the Bruins in the '07 draft, but would the Oil give him up before they're sure he isn't a future 30-goal guy like his dad, Dave? Ray Whitney? Still an effective scorer at 36, but no serious threat to make this team seen as anything more than a pretender, and with Carolina moving up in the standings, the asking price for Whitney is going up, not down.

I don't have the answers, but I do know this: It's only February, and the Bruins are in danger of blowing all of the goodwill they earned through the blood, sweat and honest effort of the 2008-09 season. This season's Bruins look a lot like the patchwork Ruins of a decade ago who had some viable parts, but relied on too many not-good-enough guys to get the job done.

The fact that a club who came within one overtime goal of the Eastern Conference finals last spring after a No. 2 overall regular season finish can look this unskilled and listless is a scathing indictment on Chiarelli's judgment in assembling this roster. Ripping him for trading Phil Kessel is too simplistic an approach: Kessel didn't want to be in Boston and made his intentions known. However, there are a lot of players not pulling their weight you can criticize him for. And, the buck stops with the GM, just as he got the credit last year.

The team needs a change for credibility's sake, but the real challenge for the GM will be in not surrendering the wrong assets to at least right the ship. You can bet this blog will be keeping a close eye on said assets, mainly the two top-10 picks this club currently possesses, with a total of five in the top-40 of what is shaping up to be one of the deepest drafts since 2003. I know that you have to give to get, but when trading draft picks like that, it has to be for players who are part of a long-term solution in Boston, not a quick, band-aid fix to save face in what is starting to look like a lost season.

This is Chiarelli's first real, true test. I can't imagine Cam Neely abiding the fact that the team has lost seven consecutive games at home for the first time in more than 75 years. This is embarrassing, and Neely of all people isn't going to accept it. From anyone.

I do think that those B's fans who have been demanding change since November will probably get it.

But, be careful what you wish for. If the GM makes any more bad decisions like some of those that have hamstrung his team, the long-term potential for success could hang in the balance.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Bruins 2010 draft picks update: 1 Feb

February is here!

So is Monday, which means I'm back with the draft pick position update for the Bruins. Boston blew its chance at a win on Saturday, squandering Mark Recchi's third period power play goal by allowing Anze Kopitar's man advantage strike and then losing in the shootout when Jarret Stoll roofed a wicked wrister on Tim Thomas (this after Marc Savard had scored in the previous round, but Thomas failed to stop Ryan Smyth on the ensuing attempt.) It was great to see Marco Sturm back after he missed six games to a mystery injury (and he made a splash with his team leading 16th goal to tie the game late in the 2nd), but the offense still isn't capable enough to call the Bruins a contender this year, and now defensive and goaltending issues are further exposing the B's as a pretender.

Toronto is a new-look team the day after adding Dion Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjostrom and J.S. Giguere, but will they be improved? I don't think so, and you can read my analysis below this post for more. What is true is that Carolina's recent surge has dropped the Leafs to the 29th position in the league, above the drowning Edmonton Oilers, who haven't won a game in 2010 and are now seven points behind the Leafs with no signs of having any chance of getting back into the race.

We don't know how the picks will look like next week, but here is where things stand if the season ended today:

2010 Boston Bruins Draft Picks

1st Round
2nd overall- Toronto (45 points; 17-28-11)
7th overall- Boston (55 points; 23-21-9)

2nd Round
32nd overall- Toronto
36th overall- Tampa Bay (55 points; 22-21-11)
37th overall- Boston

3rd Round
No pick- Traded to Buffalo for Daniel Paille*
* Conditional fourth-round pick also due if Paille scores 16 goals

4th Round
93rd overall- Carolina (45 points; 19-28-7)
97th overall- Boston

5th Round
127th overall- Boston

6th Round
157th overall- Boston

7th Round
187th overall- Boston