Boston Bruins: Larger Than Life

Full disclosure: This series has little, if anything, to do with stats, facts, or analysis of the Boston Bruins. It will not include an in-depth monologue on whether or not so-and-so will re-sign with the Bruins.

Rather, this series aims to put a face on the fanbase by highlighting the fan stories that started and continue to grow the fanbase, to tell the stories in which hockey became larger than life and instilled something intangible in the hearts of fans all over the world.

Last time around, we were interviewing @jensrud95 on Twitter. This time, we are interviewing Brett (@HockeyBender11 on Twitter).

Brett is a 28-year-old Bruins fan who grew up in Massachusetts. To anyone remotely in tune with the big 4 sports world (MLB, NFL, NHL, and MLB), it’s a well-known fact that Boston is a sports city. Therefore, it should take few people, if any, by surprise that, like so many others living in Massachusetts (just under 50 miles south of Boston, in fact), Brett fell in love with hockey.

A humble beginning

When asked about how he became involved with the sport of hockey, Brett explained that while it was always important to him (having grown up in Massachusetts), there was a larger element at play: “I have two older brothers, and we had a pond in our backyard that we used to skate on every winter. …we probably were out there, with all the neighborhood kids, from, you know, you get out of school, and then you come in for dinner then you go out until . . . the lights had to cut off. So, it was really just something that we just flocked to. Just me, and a bunch of my neighborhood kids, my brothers.”

For Brett, it wasn’t just about the neighborhood kids, who were undoubtedly a huge influence. Rather, “My brothers were probably my biggest influence in getting into it. …I would get all of their equipment, all the hand-me-downs, unfortunately, because I’m the youngest.”

Like every diehard fan, there was a moment where the sport and the team became something more than just some guys on ice. Whether that “moment” is a collection of small things all combined together, or the first time hearing a skate scrape the ice, something gives. For Brett, it was more a collection of small things. When asked what the moment was, Brett explains, “I’d say when I was about 7 years old, that’s when I really was doing more of a learn to skate program and skating with my brothers. And I just fell in love with it. I love the feeling of being out there, you know, the wind going through your ears, and face, and it was just something really cool, really addicting, and just brought a lot of joy.

Later in the conversation he continued, “…like many sports, I think it’s the ultimate team game. . . only successful teams are the ones that genuinely care about each other. I experienced that through playing in middle school, playing in high school . . . So it’s things like that. It’s just, you know, it’s many things. It’s memories that last a lifetime.”

No Stranger to Success

Of course, growing up in the Boston area anywhere in the last 20 years has been a road paved with championships galore, but that doesn’t mean that a title can’t be a favorite moment. In fact, for a team like the Bruins, the championship was, maybe, just the beginning. On this, Brett shared, “The best memory is, you know, seeing them win the (Stanley) Cup in 2011 . . . , it was just such a great memory because . . . they’re the ones who I really wanted to see win a championship in my lifetime. . . You know, the Patriots had won three Super Bowls by then, the Celtics won a championship two years prior, the Red Sox had won two championships, and they were the ones that were kind of like the black sheep of the family, so to speak. They would get close, but they would never get it done, and to finally see them win it in 2011 . . .I basically said to my parents, ‘I can die happy now, I’ve seen all of my favorite sports teams win a championship.’ So that was the best one.”

It isn’t just the success that draws fans in, Brett would suggest. Instead, he makes it more tangible, more personal. For him, it’s about connecting with a team who works hard, about a city identifying with their team: “. . . The city kind of identifies with [the Bruins] I think more than the other teams. You know, Boston’s kind of . . . blue collar . . . you work really hard, you do the right thing . . . you punch in, you work hard, you do what you can. And a lot of the players . . . the 3rd and 4th liners, the ones who would . . . get the scraps, or hit a lot of people . . . really worked really hard. They’re the ones that, to this this day, still, I think are the most popular Bruins in history. Guys like Shawn Thornton or Milan Lucic . . . they don’t take a night off, they work their butt off, and those are the ones that really get taken in. Especially to a city like Boston.”

And still for Brett, and for many fans, there’s one player who stands out. For him, it’s Bergeron: “…he was kind of unexpected success because he was drafted, I believe, in the second round in 2003, and that was probably arguably the deepest draft in terms of skill. And he was a 17 year old kid, couldn’t speak a lick of English, but he had a great rookie year, and then he just picked it up in Providence during the lockdown in 2004. And . . . he showed . . . grit, he showed toughness, and he showed pure skill, and it’s a reason he’s probably one of the more popular players in the league today. And he goes up for the award for the (Frank J.) Selke Trophy every year.”

From One Fan to Another

Despite their success, Brett knows all too well the anguish that comes with being a hockey fan, most notably meeting that disappointment head on in June, when the Bruins lost in game 7 to the Saint Louis Blues.

So I asked him what it’s like to be a Bruins fan. He got candid: “Oh, boy. It’s stressful. . . .it might just be the whole Boston mystique over the last 20 years. You know, we’ve had a lot of success, but Bruins fans for a very long time were very upset with ownership in the late 90s, early 2000s, I would say. . . Mainly a lot of stress growing up, but, for some reason, we just always continue to go back, and just, hopefully there was one time where they could make a deep playoff run and change things up.”

While the hockey world will always be anything but predictable, there is a crew of crazed fans who keep coming back, and new fans joining the crew. For them, Brett had a bit of advice to give. For a new fan, he says, “Never stop gaining new knowledge about the game, be like a vacuum.” As someone who played, his encouragement to new players was, “Be patient, work hard, and enjoy the time you have on the ice.”

Hockey will never just be about some guys on ice. Thanks, Brett, for helping to remind us why.

A final, more personal note:

As I’m sure you’ve heard, our founder Josh has made the tough decision to close down Puck77, so this will be my last post. I just want to say that I fully support his decision, and want nothing but the best for he, his fiancée, and Izzy. I had the pleasure of meeting them in Boston earlier this year, and they are some of the most genuine people I’ve ever met.

The people I have worked alongside with, the editors, and especially Josh, have made my introduction to the world of sports journalism an adventure I won’t forget.

I cannot say enough positive things about Josh. He was there at the drop of a hat, and was so flexible with me despite my busy schedule.

He went above and beyond for this site, and I hope that it’s something nobody ever takes for granted. The thing about an undertaking like this is that the front product just shows a small portion of the work. Josh put in loads of work behind the scenes that most of us will never know the fullness of. That level of commitment is admirable.

Thank you, Josh, for giving us a voice in the sports world.

I’ll miss Puck77, but what an adventure it was so be a part of it. Forever thankful.

All the best to all of you,

Kate

player profiles from hockey-reference.com

Florida Panthers: Free Agent Frenzy

July 1st is one of the most stressful days of a hockey fan’s year.  So often it is a day in which a team’s dreams are either realized or crushed, and July 1st, 2019 was no different.  Just ask the Florida Panthers, who experienced both at once. 

The 2019 off-season saw two highly coveted unrestricted free agents in Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky.  Rumor had it that the Panthers were heavily courting both and that they wanted to stay together, having spent the last few years playing together both for the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Russian national team, but the pair was separated when Artemi Panarin was swayed by the allure of Manhattan, while Bobrovsky chose the sunshine and beaches of south Florida.  Though landing both (in addition to a defenseman) would have been the best-case scenario for the Panthers, they had a backup plan in motion, just in case. They added Anton Stralman to shore up defense, Brett Connolly to increase depth scoring, and Noel Acciari to center the fourth line.  This may not have been the ideal ending for the Panthers’ 2019 edition of free agent frenzy, but one cannot dispute that the team filled in the holes that needed to be filled.

The Florida Panthers had the fourth-worst goals saved above expected and the second-worst save percentage in the entire league in the 2018-19 season.  With Roberto Luongo’s age and injury history and James Reimer’s record as a starter, it was abundantly clear to the Panthers that they needed to add a goalie on whom they could rely for at least 50 games per year until Spencer Knight is ready for the show.  Enter Sergei Bobrovsky.  The Panthers signed the two-time Vezina Trophy winner to a seven-year deal worth $70 million ($10 million average annual value).  Bobrovsky’s price tag presents a big risk to the Panthers, as he has had issues with consistency from year to year throughout his career, but they certainly bought the two Vezinas and the team hopes that he can recreate those efforts more often than not over the next seven years.  Over the last seven years, since winning his first Vezina, Bobrovsky ranks 12th in save percentage on unblocked shot attempts and differential between actual and expected save percentage on unblocked shot attempts, 3rd in goals saved above expected, and 2nd in wins above replacement.  In 2016-17, Bobrovsky not only lead all NHL goalies in those four metrics for that season, but his stats for that year are also the highest marks any goalie has reached since the 2013 lockout-shortened season, making it the best single season any goalie has had in the last seven years.  Bobrovsky has been far from perfect throughout his career, however.  In each of the three seasons following his first Vezina, he posted negative results in his actual performance relative to his expected performance and ranked outside of the top 30 in wins above replacement in both 2014-15 and 2015-16 (Table 1).  In signing Bobrovsky, the Panthers acquired an established goaltender who has posted positive results more often than negative, including some truly top-tier performances.  However, Bobrovsky will be 31 before his first season with the Panthers begins and the term and money from the Panthers represent an enormous gamble that he will age gracefully and that he can continue to post his elite results more frequently than those below replacement level.

Moving up the ice, the Panthers also added to their blue line by signing Anton Stralman to what is probably the worst contract that the team handed out on Monday.  The three-year term will not handcuff the team in the long run, but the $5.5 million AAV will make it tough to add pieces over the course of this contract.  Stralman is no longer the top-tier shutdown defenseman that he once was (Figures 1, 2), having seen a steady decline in his on-ice results each of the past five years.  He was especially bad in 2018-19, posting career worsts in almost every defensive metric, but it stands to reason that it could have just been a down year compounded by an injury that kept him off the ice for nearly half the season.  Panthers fans should not expect a major bounce back for the 32-year-old (33 by the time the season starts), but basic statistical regression would point towards Stralman having a slight improvement on his 2018-19 season.

 

screenshots of Evolving-Hockey

The Panthers also added two forwards to their roster on July 1st, both pieces who can contribute in the bottom-9, something the Panthers have been lacking for quite some time.  The first was Brett Connolly.  The 27-year-old former top-10 pick signed a four-year contract worth $13 million ($3.25 million AAV) which, contrary to Stralman, is likely going to be the best value contract that the Panthers signed.  Connolly has spent the last three years with the Washington Capitals, with whom he also got his name on the Stanley Cup.  Connolly is not much for driving play (Figure 3) but he is certainly one for finishing it.  Over the last three seasons, Connolly ranks 11th in the league in goals per sixty minutes at 5-on-5 despite averaging just under 11 minutes per game at even strength (Table 2), mostly with Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky as his line-mates.  Secondary scoring has been a major issue for the Florida Panthers in the past.  During the 2018-19 season, of the Florida Panthers 162 goals scored at 5-on-5, Aleksander Barkov was on the ice for 70 of them.  The 92 goals for which Barkov was not on the ice rank among the fewest bottom-nine goals for in the league.  Connolly’s shooting talent and scoring rates should be a huge help to their depth scoring and, potentially, their second power play. 

screenshot of Evolving-Hockey

The final addition that the Panthers made on the first day of free agency was Noel Acciari, who had spent his career up until this point in the Boston Bruins’ system.  With a three-year, $5 million deal ($1.67 million AAV), Acciari’s contract does not really move the needle one way or the other, but neither does his play.  He will likely slot in as the Panthers’ fourth-line center, another position which the Panthers have struggled to reliably fill in seasons past.  A low-event forward, Acciari is responsible defensively and mostly a non-factor offensively (Figure 4).  One under-appreciated part of his profile, however, is his penchant for staying on the right side of the penalty ledger.  Relative to league averages, he draws 12% more and takes 63% fewer penalties.  He will not allow much in front of Bobrovsky and he will help the power play get on the ice more often than he will force a penalty kill.  For $1.67 million per year, that will make for one of the more solid fourth-line centers the Panthers have had in a long time.

screenshot of Evolving-Hockey

Overall, the Panthers had a fine day on July 1st, 2019.  It is disappointing that they lost out on adding a top forward, but they added an elite goaltender, two good value depth forwards, and a veteran defenseman.  The Panthers improved in all facets of the game and did so in a way that will neither handcuff them from continuing to improve nor prevent them from maintaining their core when it comes time to re-sign Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Vincent Trocheck.  Though it may not have been prudent to redistribute the money earmarked for Artemi Panarin so quickly, it is hard to harshly criticize where the money ended up.  That said, there is still plenty of room for this roster to improve and, while the Panthers may be done in the free agent market, fans should not expect the lineup as it is to be the one that enters the 2019-2020 season.

Stats from naturalstattrick.comevolving-hockey.com, and hockeyviz.com

RAPM charts from evolving-hockey.com

Shot location heatmaps from hockeyviz.com

Featured Image Photo Credit – Nikos Michals

 

Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins: Connor Clifton Isn’t Done Eating Chowdah

July 1st is always a day on the calendar most NHL fans circle. The first day of unrestricted free agency begins, and the Boston Bruins made a few subtle moves. Adding depth is a speciality of Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney, but in my opinion he hit a home run when it came to signing Quinnipiac University alum Connor Clifton.

Time At Quinnipiac

A native of Long Branch, New Jersey, Clifton was selected 133rd overall in the 2013 NHL entry draft by the Arizona Coyotes. Clifton played prep school hockey at Christian Brothers Academy together with his brother, Tim.

Clifton began his freshman season at Quinnipiac University during the 2013-14 season. He was named to the ECAC Hockey All-Academic Team during all four seasons with the Quinnipiac Bobcats. After impressing the coaching staff, Clifton because the captain of the Bobcats during his junior season. Later that year, Clifton was named to the ECAC Hockey All-Tournament, NCAA East All-Frozen Four Team, and honored as Team ECAC Hockey Tournament Most Outstanding Player. Coming out of Quinnipiac, Clifton never got an offer from the Arizona Coyotes. He took his option to play in the National Hockey League by way of the Boston Bruins.

Becoming A Mainstay In the Bruins Lineup

Embed from Getty Images

Clifton emerged this season as a young, and talented NHL defenseman. At first, he was called up from the Boston Bruins’ AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins early on in the season when injuries arose at the NHL level. But, he quickly showed why he needed to be with the Bruins full-time.

Clifton isn’t known for his size, he plays on edge, and plays with the edge that most Bruins fans love to see. I love his end zone puck retrieval, and his ability to make plays from behind his goal line. Although Connor isn’t known for his scoring ability, his defensive play and smart play making ability made him shine in the 2019 Stanley Cup run.

When called upon, Clifton answered the door. Playing top minutes with Zdeno Chara when Charlie McAvoy was suspended, but also learning the ropes from the ninth floor at TD Garden.

Clifton earned himself a three year contract extension today on the first day of “free agency frenzy”. A name that wasn’t atop the list, but a name that Bruins fans should get use to for the next three seasons. He has huge upside potential and makes the Bruins better when he wants to be. He’ll have an AAV of $1M per year for the next three seasons.

stats from hockey-reference.com and eliteprospects.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals

 

2019 NHL Draft: Potential Gems Part 1 – Atlantic Division

Welcome to a new series I’m starting here on Puck77. Hidden gems in the NHL Draft.

 
If you couldn’t tell already, I’m an absolute draft nut. And I was starting to get antsy with me not having done a prospect series of some sort in a while. One of my favourite weekends of the year just wrapped up, and as a result, all 31 NHL teams have a new crop of young talent in the pipelines. Some of them could be hall of famers, some of them could be NHL mainstays, some of them might not even see a game of professional hockey. But that’s the beauty of the draft. And to give you all a little more information on who to look out for, I’m going to start a series going over one potential hidden gem from each team’s 2019 draft class. Without further ado, let’s kick things off with the Atlantic Division.
 

Boston Bruins – Matias Mantykivi (D, 6th Round, 185th Overall)

 
The Bruins went slightly off the board with their first round pick and drafted forward John Beecher, a dynamic centre who has good size and great offensive tendencies to make it a good selection overall. Because they didn’t have a second or a fourth round pick, they ended up picking four more players on day two, with one of them being Matias Mantykivi.
 
Mantykivi is a small Finnish defenseman who spent the majority of this season palying for SaiPa U20 of the Jr. A SM-Liiga, which is essentially Finland’s junior league. He was very good offensively this season, putting up 36 points over 34 games for the team while also seeing some ice time with Kettera of the Mestis league (Finland’s version of the AHL) and Saipa of the SM-Liiga, their top league. It’s unknown where he will be playing next season, but the most likely scenario is that he remains in Finland to further develop his game until the Bruins believe he’s ready to come to North America.
 

Buffalo Sabres – Filip Cederqvist (LW, 5th Round, 143rd Overall)

 
Without a doubt, the Sabres’ most hyped up pick was forward Dylan Cozens, taken at seventh overall. The big centre from the WHL could look to provide a really solid one-two punch with Jack Eichel eventually. They also selected a solid two way defenseman at 31st overall in Ryan Johnson. After these two were selected, the Sabres went on to make four more picks, three of them being forwards and one of them being a goaltender. If I have to pick one of these guys to be a potential hidden gem, I’m going with Filip Cederqvist.
 
After getting passed over last year in his first year of eligibility, the Sabres took a flier on Cederqvist in the fifth round and it looks like a pick that could pay off for them. The Skara, Sweden native is a 6’1 winger who spent most of this season playing for the Vaxjo Lakers of the SHL and had a pretty solid campaign, putting up eight points in 33 games. He also spent time with the Lakers’ J20 team where he put up 32 points in 26 games. As of now, it seems like Cederqvist will spend most of his development in Sweden, but he could turn out to be something for the Sabres.
 

Detroit Red Wings – Albin Grewe (LW, 3rd Round, 66th Overall)

 
The Red Wings had one of the busiest days at the draft of any team, leaving Rogers Arena with 11 new prospects under their belts. Their first pick was off the board, but not surprising to me at all, taking German defenseman Moritz Seider at sixth overall. I firmly believe Seider could turn out to be a gem for the Wings, seeing that he wasn’t getting much coverage playing in Germany. But that’s a post for another time.
 
Instead, I’m going with Albin Grewe as the Wings’ hidden gem (his last name is pronounced Gree-vay. Don’t make the same mistake I did). He’s said to be a gritty winger who can also put the puck in the back of the net. Through 25 games with Djurgardens IF J20 of the SHL’s junior league, he put up 34 points. He’s under contract with Djurgardens IF of the SHL, and will more than likely start next season on the main squad rather than in the minors. I personally had Grewe going mid-second round, so the fact that they took him in the third round strikes me as a potential steal for the Red Wings.
 

Florida Panthers – Cole Schwindt (C, 3rd Round, 81st Overall)

 
With Roberto Luongo on the brink of retirement and James Reimer entertaining the possibility of getting bought out, it’s not at all surprising that the Panthers went with the top goaltending prospect in Spencer Knight as their first round pick. They had a busy day on day two, leaving with eight more draft picks. Out of all of the Panthers’ mid-to-late rounders, Cole Schwindt was the one that stood out to me.
 
The 6’2 Kitchener native spent this season with the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL, and finished a solid campaign with 49 points in 68 games. He has good size and he’s only 18 years old, so another year or two in the OHL could do wonders for him until the Panthers are ready to bring him to the pros. There’s a great chance we could see Schwindt turn into something.
 

Montreal Canadiens – Arsen Khisamutdinov (LW, 6th Round, 170th Overall)

 
The Habs got one of the first presumed steals of the draft in the first round, selecting forward Cole Caufield at 15th overall when he was projected to go as high as seventh overall. Like the Red Wings, the Canadiens had a busy day at the draft and left with ten new prospects. One of these ones was Arsen Khisamutdinov.
 
Khisamutdinov (I feel bad for the announcer who has to say that name) is an overage forward who was born in 1998 and spent this season playing back home in Russia. The 6’3 winger spent the majority of this season playing for Reaktor Nizhnekamsk of the MHL (Russia’s version of the CHL) and also impressed in a small sample size with Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk of the KHL, putting up five points over nine games. There always seems to be a number of overage Russians that go in the mid rounds of drafts, and Khisamutdinov looks like he could become a solid pickup for the Habs.
 

Ottawa Senators – Mads Sogaard (G, 2nd Round, 37th Overall)

 
The Senators could have had the fourth overall pick in this draft but sacrificed it in the deal that brought them Matt Duchene (who isn’t with the team anymore). Regardless, they ended up getting a first round pick back from the Columbus Blue Jackets in an ironic deal that sent Duchene to the Jackets. Either way, one first round pick is better than none, and they used theirs to select Lassi Thomson, a solid Finnish defenseman from the WHL. While they only selected six players this past weekend, they might have found a gem in Mads Sogaard.
 
It might be hard to call Sogaard a gem considering he’s a second round pick who was picked right around where he was projected to be, but he has potential to become a really good starting goalie in the league. The 6’7 Danish goalie spent this season with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL and finished with a record of 19-8-2 with a GAA of 2.64 and a save percentage of .921 to go with it. He will likely head back to the WHL for at least one more season, but he could turn out to be something special for the Sens.

 

Tampa Bay Lightning – Max Crozier (D, 4th Round, 120th Overall)

 
After drafting defenseman Cal Foote in the first round a couple of years back, the Lightning went with his younger brother in 2019, drafting forward Nolan Foote. The Bolts drafted a total of seven players in 2019, and one player in particular that sticks out as a potential gem is Max Crozier.
Crozier spent this season playing for the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL, putting up 43 points in 60 games from the back end. Being 6’1 and right-handed, he already has an edge in terms of value over some other players. He’s committed to play for Providence College of the NCAA next year, and it will be interesting to see how he develops over a couple years of college hockey.
 

Toronto Maple Leafs – Mikko Kokkonen (D, 3rd Round, 84th Overall)

 
The Maple Leafs didn’t have a first round pick in 2019, but kicked things off in the second round by selecting skilled forward Nick Robertson at 53rd overall. They only made six picks this year, but their potential gem might have come in the third round in the form of Mikko Kokkonen.
 
After reading some scouting reports on his game, he was described as the type of defenseman who won’t blow you away with any one aspect of his game, but plays a steady all around game. He put up 16 points in 59 games for Jukurit of the SM-Liiga and is known to be good defensively as well. If his development goes according to plan, it’s possible he could cap out as a good top four defenseman at the NHL level.
 
Thanks for reading. Tune in next time when we’ll be going over a potential gem from each Central Division team.
Puck77

NHL Mock Draft Part Six: Picks 26-31

Part six has arrived, and it is the final part of my mock National Hockey League entry draft series.

 

26th Overall Pick: Calgary Flames select Albin Grewe, Right/Left Winger, Djurgardens IF J20, SuperElit

Grewe, a Marsta, Sweden native, stands at 6’0, 187 pounds. He is thought highly by some, and not so much by others. I am one who really likes his game, whereas he has been ranked as low as 88th and as high as 25th, with the average ranking of 50.8.

Playing on a junior league in Sweden (U20), while other first round Swedish talent played in the SHL (top league), is a hit on his value. But, he played well against the U20 competition, with 13 goals and 21 assists (34 points) in 25 games. This play earned him a call up to the SHL for the main Djurgardens IF squad for 15 games, but he failed to produce a single point there, another hit on his value.

However, he has some really intriguing values, which is why someone like myself might have him in as first round talent. He makes himself be seen. His skating isn’t pretty, but it is effective, as he is quick and can keep up with the pace of the game. Once his stride can be developed more smoothly, he can be a real good skater in the future.

Grewe is a monster in the offensive zone, in a sense that he is constantly moving and getting to the dirty areas. He welcomes board battles as well. He has a really good shooting ability, as well as fine passing ability. Here’s the downside to his offensive skills; he doesn’t read the play well, and often turns the puck over for passing into traffic or shooting into a lane that was closing in, and got blocked.

He is a fantastic forechecker and backchecker, all over his opponents. However, he does get into penalty trouble, which is reflected in his penalty minutes last season (102 in total in SuperElit, 16 in SHL).

Defensively, he plays physical along the boards, and steps up to block shots as well. Next season, he will likely play against men in the SHL, and his physical game will likely be stunted due to his fairly light weight. But this is good news for Grewe, as he will learn quickly that, at just 187 pounds, you can’t play that style of play, and you must bulk up.

 

Future Role: A lot depends on next season, and how he adjusts his game, as well as working to bulk up. All-in-all he is a generally safe pick, as his style safely projects as a bottom-six winger at the very worst. But he has the potential to be a special player, with his good shot and physical style. He needs to work on his mental game for that to happen, and study hard for a better hockey IQ, and that is very possible.

 

27th Overall Pick: Tampa Bay Lightning select Samuel Poulin, Right/Left Wing, Sherbrooke Phoenix, QMJHL

Before I break down Poulin, what don’t the Lightning need? A small forward, as their forward core is small already. A defenseman, as they have a lot of young guys already in their system or at the NHL level. A goaltender, as they have Andrei Vasilevskiy. So, what do they need?

A big forward, with high upside, because a lack of size for the forward core led to Josh Anderson of the Columbus Blue Jackets to just bully Tampa in the playoffs. So, who’s available?

6’2, 208 pound Samuel Poulin is. He has the best frame for a player at this stage of the draft that would not be considered an egregious reach. Wearing the “A” on his sweater for Sherbrooke last season, Poulin registered 29 goals and 47 assists (76 points) in 67 games. He has been ranked as early as 23rd and as late as 33rd, with his average ranking at 26.3. Poulin is a fast skater, but doesn’t have great edgework. There are times he over skates the puck or puck carrier, and doesn’t stop or turn in time to get a second whack at it. Those are things that could be fixed, as the Lightning have a great skating coach in Barb Underhill.

In the offensive zone, Poulin is always supporting the puck, and has great vision, finding open areas to get a pass from a teammate. He is also creative, with solid stickhandling skills, though he tends to play a simpler game. He loves parking himself in front of the opposing goalie, looking for tips and rebounds. He has a great pass, with lots of power behind it, as well as real good accuracy, making them difficult to break up.

He has a hard shot, but tends to shoot into the goalie at times, and must work on his accuracy. He struggles at times reading the play and trying to make the right decision, finding himself forcing passes or shots. He is dangerous on the forecheck, as he causes a lot of havoc and forces plenty of turnovers. He backchecks like a mad man, as he is a fast skater, despite his big frame.

In the defensive zone, he supports the defense down low, and is constantly pressuring the forwards. However, he very easily gets caught up in hounding the puck, and can go from his area of the ice (the right side) all the way across to the far side and back, and if there’s a lack of communication, can really mess with the opposite winger on his team. That’s something that can be coached however, but it is still a glaring problem in his game. He doesn’t back away from board battles, and does have a gritty side to his game, though he is much more disciplined than Grewe.

The problem is, he isn’t as safe of a pick as Grewe. He would get eaten alive at the NHL level if he doesn’t work on his stops and starts, as well as his tight turns. That alone could set him back far enough where he doesn’t make the NHL roster.

 

Future Role: A boom or bust prospect, with less bust and more boom, has a very raw skillset, but does a lot of things right for a prospect. If he works out the minor details and puts a ton of skating work in, he could thrive in the Lightning system, who are in desperate need of a big forward, and be a future elite winger. He is more likely going to be a middle-six winger, but the ceiling is still high for him at the moment.

 

28th Overall Pick: Carolina Hurricanes select Jakob Pelletier, Left Wing, Moncton Wildcats, QMJHL

Pelletier is an undersized skater, standing at just 5’9, and 160 pounds. The Quebec City native has been ranked as early as 20 and as late as 43, with his average ranking at 32.6. Due to his smaller stature, he has blazing speed. He’s able to change speeds on the go, making it difficult for defenseman to match him and defend him on the rush. He has the edgework to make quick cuts, which is even more difficult for defenseman to defend against, which makes him such a special skater. He is also very strong on his skates and can hold his own in board battles, and fight for position in front of the net.

Going back to his dynamic skating ability, defenders tend to give him more space, so they don’t get burned wide, but he is a great passer, and takes advantage of that space. He has good stickhandling to pair with his skating, and he has the ability to make a quick move to fool a defender at full speed to open up a passing lane, which he then sends the puck through to an open teammate for a scoring chance. He has great vision and a high hockey IQ to read the play quickly and find ways to beat a defense with his deceptive foot work and high end passing abilities.

He has a decent shot, and has a knack for beating defenders to an open spot and letting the puck fly, though it is far from being NHL ready. One thing that stands out is the fact that he is always in the play. He is usually involved in board battles, and he forechecks hard, really wanting the puck on his stick. He can frustrate defenders and cause them to make mistakes with that style, but again, he is too small at the moment for that style to work, as a guy like Dustin Byfuglien will send a message to him with a huge hit if he tries that style in the NHL. So he must bulk up for his aggressive style to translate.

His defensive game is weak. He plays a style similar to Poulin, where he races around the defensive zone for the puck, which leads him out of position. But he is smaller than Poulin, which means he has a smaller reach and can’t break up as many passes. He also struggles helping his defense down low, as he is smaller than most and cannot contain his opponents. The effort is there, but he needs size and more awareness for it to truly work. He was compared to Brad Marchand in his style of play, by Ben Kerr of LastWordOnHockey, which I truly agree with. He is a great offensive winger (had 39 goals and 50 assists for 89 points in 65 games with Moncton) but lacks the necessary size, currently.

 

Future Role: Has the offensive tools, just needs to smooth out his game a bit there. His defensive game is lacking, but if he bulks up, most things will work out naturally, as well as with good coaching. He will likely slot in as a second line winger at the next level, but is a few years away.

 

29th Overall Pick: Anaheim Ducks select Pavel Dorofeyev, Left/Right Wing, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, KHL

Dorofeyev is a tall winger, standing at 6’0, but is very light, and must bulk up, at 163 pounds. The Nizhny Tagil, Russia native has been ranked as early as 16th and as late as 82nd (thanks Bob McKenzie) with his average ranking at 37.

Dorofeyev doesn’t have the speed to beat defenders wide, but he can keep up with the pace of the game. He has great edgework however, which allows him to be shifty with the puck, and hard to contain in an area by a single defenseman. Despite his lankiness, he has good balance, but it isn’t nearly good enough to translate at the NHL level and he must bulk up.

He pairs his edgework with his outstanding hands, very difficult for defenders to hold off in one-on-one situations. His stickhandling also allows him to make a move to create space for himself and for teammates. He is not afraid to battle along the boards, in the corners, or in front of the net. His quick hands help him to score in tight to the goaltender. He has a very accurate shot, but he doesn’t have enough power behind those shots just yet to translate to the NHL. Without the puck, he looks for an opening in the defense to go, in order to get a pass from a teammate.

He is very good at breaking up passes, and does not shy away from board battles defensively either. He has decent positioning, but must be fine tuned down the road. Has trouble against bigger opponents. So, again, he must bulk up.

Dorofeyev did outstanding in the second tier Russian league, the MHL, with Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk, as he put up 17 goals and 14 assists (31 points) in 19 games played. He was granted a shot at the KHL, where he played 14 games with a goal and an assist in 23 games. His offensive production in the KHL was underwhelming, but that was his first taste of playing against men, so it was not out of the blue that he struggled to score. His MHL production was stellar, and is more of a “what’s to come” look into his future once he develops and is able to produce against men.

 

Future Role: Doesn’t necessarily stand out offensively, but finds success nonetheless, which is a good sign moving forward. Once his shooting becomes more powerful, he could certainly project as a second line sniper. His balanced play will allow him to currently project as a middle-six winger with two-way capabilities. Must bulk up for those projections to be realized.

 

30th Overall Pick: Boston Bruins select Matthew Robertson, Left-Handed Defenseman, Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL

Robertson is a defenseman that is on the bigger side of things among his peers in the draft. He stands at 6’4 and 201 pounds, and with an aging core in Boston outside of Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Matt Grzelcyk, that have proved themselves, a defenseman could be just what they need. Not to mention, “Big Z” Zdeno Chara will likely be retired when Robertson is NHL ready, thus making size at the blueline a much bigger need in the future, something their D prospect Urho Vaakanainen can’t give them. Plus, at this stage in the draft, he’s arguably the best player available.

Despite his size, he is a very smooth skater. He is fast going both forwards and backwards, which is a great base for development of a defenseman. His edges are not the best however, and if he needs to change direction, he is a bit slow pivoting, which can lead to him struggling against forwards who have tight turns and blazing speed. He has great balance, which is understandably expected at his size, winning battles along the boards and in front of his own net.

Robertson has a fantastic pass, and when paired with his skating, makes him a very effective puck moving defenseman. When in the offensive zone, he finds ways to take advantage of his passing skills, and that helps him be a quarterback on the powerplay. Robertson is very mobile along the blueline, and that helps him “walk” the line to open up passing and shooting lanes. He isn’t the best shooter, but he does find ways to at least get the puck on net.

He has a great feel for the game, knowing when to go in deep and help the forwards and when to stay back, as well as knowing if a passing lane is there or not. He uses that feel to pick apart defenses offensively.

When the opposing team is carrying the puck up ice, he does a nice job matching their speed and keeping them on the outside. He also does step up and deliver big hits at times, though he usually just stays back in his gap, not wanting to get caught out of position. He is almost always in position, and loves getting to the dirty areas in the corners and in front of the net, battling with a man for the puck, or for positioning. He also isn’t afraid to block shots, showing a willingness to do what it takes to keep the opposing team from scoring. While he isn’t the most offensively minded defender in this draft, he did manage to produce seven goals and 26 assists (33 points) in 52 games for Edmonton.

 

Future Role: He is another safe pick in this draft, as he will likely, at the worst, crack a bottom-two pairing role. If he can improve upon his shooting and creativity in the offensive zone, as well as continue developing his already advanced defensive zone play, he could easily be a number two or number three defenseman for the Bruins, with penalty kill time.

 

31st Overall Pick: Buffalo Sabres select Brett Leason, Center, Prince Albert Raiders, WHL

Now this is a story. Brett Leason is a 20-year-old player in the CHL, and went undrafted and unsigned through the last two NHL drafts. Two drafts people. Now, he has been ranked inside the first round, and if those rankings ring true, could be just the second CHL player ever to be passed up in two drafts before being selected in the first round in the third draft (Tanner Pearson is the other). At his age, however, you are two years older than guys who are arguably ahead of you in their development. That alone is a big hit on his value, and might knock him outside the first.

He has been ranked as early as 28th and as late as 44th, with his average ranking at 34.9. So why have people suddenly fallen in love with a player who was told twice he wasn’t good enough to even be drafted? Because his glaring weaknesses are no more, and it begins with his skating. He has improved his skating to the point where he is no longer falling behind the play. He isn’t very fast, and still needs to improve on the fluidity of his strides, but he has taken a leap forward in improvements.

He has good balance, partly due to his 6’4, 201-pound frame, but also because he has solid edgework. That edgework was once missing in his game, but now that he has found it, he’s able to do so much more in all three zones, with tighter turns and cleaner stops and starts. He welcomes board battles, and fights mightily for net-front position. He is good at getting deflections and goals off rebounds. He has good hands to finish in tight and beat the goaltender.

While he has always had good stickhandling, he is now able to pair it with much better skating, which gives him a whole new set of plays to create space to pass or shoot. He has a decent shot, but he needs to work on it much more before it is NHL ready. He has a knack for finding open teammates, and the passing abilities to get the puck to them. He has good patience, taking as long as necessary for his teammates to get open, all the while looking over all options and keeping the play alive.

He is excellent at protecting the puck, so that helps. He works hard on both the forecheck and backcheck, which is always a welcome sign for NHL teams. Defensively, he is good positionally, as well as using his long reach to effectively break up passes and force turnovers. He helps support the defense down low, as well as being unafraid of blocking shots.

To put in perspective just how much Leason improved, here were his stats combined through his first two seasons in the CHL: 24 goals and 27 assists for 51 points in 135 games. Last season, Leason recorded 36 goals and 53 assists for 89 points in 55 games. In 80 less games, Leason had 12 more goals and 26 more assists for 38 more points. That is absolutely insane. That’s why he has been able to, almost suddenly, become a first round prospect, three years in the making. That goes to show how much work and dedication he puts into this game, as well as his ability to shut out the noise of all the detractors and doubters from years prior. His dream will soon be realised, and the way he gets here is nothing short of inspirational.

 

Future Role: If he continues to improve on his skating as well as his offensive skills, while building upon an already reliable defensive prowess, he could find himself in a second-line role. However, he doesn’t “wow” you with his performance, and simply does what he is told, and has a no-nonsense attitude on the ice, which leans me more towards a very reliable third-line winger, with penalty kill minutes.

 

Stats via eliteprospects

Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals