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

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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

 

Puck77

NHL Mock Draft Part Two: Selections 6-10

Part one is done, which looked at my prediction of the top-five National Hockey League entry draft selections, which means we are going through picks 6-10 for part two!

 

In this part I predict a trade, but other than that it is a straightforward prediction. For a quick refresher, Kappo Kakko went first, Jack Hughes went second, Cole Caufield at third, Alex Turcotte went fourth and Bowen Byram went fifth. 

 

Sixth Overall Pick: Detroit Red Wings trade back!

A trade kicks off part two, and it is a small one, but with a big impact. The Red Wings, I believe, are eyeing a prospect that should be available at 10th overall, owned by the Vancouver Canucks, and so they swap places, with Vancouver also eating Danny DeKeyser’s contract. Canucks fans have always complained about getting screwed over by the draft lottery, and so the team decides it’s time to move up, at the cost of DeKeyser’s hefty contract. Trade is Detroit’s 2019 sixth overall pick to Vancouver in exchange for the 10th overall pick, and Danny DeKeyser. So, here’s the pick:

 

Sixth Overall Pick: Vancouver Canucks select Trevor Zegras, Center/Both Wings, USNTDP

Zegras is like Alex Turcotte and Bowen Byram (who were selected in part one) in which he could arguably be the third overall pick. But with the Caufield selection at three, and Turcotte and Byram ultimately falling, Zegras is left available for the taking. (Why Detroit wouldn’t take him here will be explained when pick 10 rolls around).

For Vancouver, they have been dying to select a versatile, sure-fire future elite forward on draft day for a while. I know what you’re thinking, what about Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat? Pettersson was selected back in 2016, and needed a season before making the jump and, ultimately, becoming their best player. Boeser was everything but a sure-fire deal, being taken at 23rd overall in 2015. Horvat was drafted in 2013, at the tail end of the top 10 (ninth overall) and also wasn’t exactly a sure thing.

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So, it’s been a few years and the Canucks want more, and Zegras is probably the best forward (aside from Pettersson) that they have selected in the draft, and whether he ends up more vital to the team than Horvat and Boeser will be found out within a few years.

Zegras piled up 14 goals and 26 assists (40 points) in 27 games with the USNTDP juniors. The fact that he didn’t play up with Turcotte and Jack Hughes tells me he has about 1-2 years before making the jump to the NHL, but his playmaking ability is outstanding. He proved that when he played for the US National U-18 team for 60 games, where he put up 26 goals and 61 assists (87 points).

Next season, like with Caufield and Turcotte, he is committed to joining an NCAA club, and for him it’s Boston University. BU is well known in the hockey community thanks to Jack Eichel, Charlie McAvoy and Charlie Coyle, just to name a few, so I feel that this is a big step in the right direction for Zegras.

Next Year’s Role: NCAA minutes, likely won’t join the NHL club at any point next season, unless he dominates with BU.

 

Seventh Overall Pick: Buffalo Sabres select Dylan Cozens, Center/Right Wing, Lethbridge Hurricanes, WHL

This is an excellent selection for the Sabres. But then again, if any of the aforementioned players were available here, and the Sabres picked them, it would be excellent. That’s just how strong the top-10 prospects are in this class.

Playing in the WHL last season with Lethbridge, Cozens put up 34 goals and 50 assists (84 points) in 68 games, along with four goals and four assists (eight points) in seven playoff games. Cozens is leading the next wave of power forwards, that is currently led by Mark Stone of the Vegas Golden Knights.

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Cozens is well balanced, with a good shot and good vision. But his defensive abilities, paired with his well-balanced scoring touch, prompted LastWordOnHockey’s Ben Kerr to believe he could be a first line center with a chance at winning the Selke Trophy. That’s big praise from a guy who does several scouting reports on all different players every year. Cozens could make the jump to the NHL off of a strong camp, but the chances are he needs another year or so to advance to the next level. 

Next Year’s Role: WHL time with Lethbridge, likely won’t join the club late in the season, but it is possible.

 

Eighth Overall Pick: Edmonton Oilers select Matthew Boldy, Left Wing, USNTDP


Why Matthew Boldy here? I know it’s a little off the board, and he is not the best player available. But that by no means says that he is not a good player. Boldy has good size (6’2”, 192 pounds), and he had a very good season with the USNTDP Juniors club. He racked up 17 goals and 26 assists (43 points) in 28 games, adding another 33 goals and 48 assists (81 points) in 64 games with the US National U-18 team. He might not be the best skater in the draft by any means, but as fellow Puck77 contributor Tony Ferrari points out, with some adjustment in his stride as well as a better first step and in general acceleration, he could wind up being one of the best players in the draft.

Now, when we head on over to Edmonton’s roster, we see they have a strong center core, both young and experienced (Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jujhar Khaira in the NHL, Ryan McLeod, Cooper Marody in their pool) as well as a solid bunch of right wingers with promise (Leon Draisaitl, Jesse Puljujarvi in NHL, Kailer Yamamoto, Kirill Maksimov, Ostap Mafin in pool), as well as defenseman (Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse in NHL, Evan Bouchard, Dmitri Samorukov, Ethan Bear in pool).

As for left wings, they have Milan Lucic and Tobias Rieder on the NHL club, and Tyler Benson in their pool. That is a very weak core, relative to their other positions (outside of goaltending), and while some players may go and new players will come in within the time that Boldy will be in the juniors/minors developing, they should still get a headstart in building up that very weak left wing.

Boldy is a safer pick than some guys who may have higher upside, but regardless, he fills a pretty large need the Oilers have. This is not that much of a reach either, it’s just that he was in the shadows of the earlier USNTDP picks and is, in my opinion, overlooked by the general fan. I believe this would be a great selection for Edmonton. He has committed to Boston College (NCAA) next season, where he will not be in anyone’s shadow.

Next Year’s Role: NCAA minutes, no chance he joins the Oilers late in season barring major injuries and/or he dominates in Boston College.

 

9th Overall Pick: Anaheim selects Kirby Dach, Center, Saskatoon Blades, WHL

Dach going to the Ducks is a match made in heaven. We all know the frustrating in-your-face, kind of dirty style of play that the Ducks utilize. While Dach isn’t necessarily dirty, he is a big guy, standing at 6’4, 198 pounds, and can very easily use that frame to fit the bill of a Duck.

The Ducks core is aging, and their prospect pool is very weak. They go best player available at this selection, and it really couldn’t be better for Anaheim. His size isn’t the only thing that is enticing.

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Dach had 25 goals and 48 assists (73 points) in 62 games played with Saskatoon, as well as five goals and three assists (eight points) in 10 postseason games played. He did not play any international games this past season with Canada, which is why he “dropped” to ninth (he ranges anywhere from third to 13th in this class) but he is still an intriguing prospect.

The knock on Dach is three things: 1) His acceleration is not good enough to translate to the NHL at this moment and he needs to really improve in that area to be a successful player at the next level. 2) He tends to keep his head down when skating with the puck, and despite his size, has gotten destroyed by hits on several occasions. 3) Finally, a lot of experts and fellow contributors on the site say that he does not have a very high ceiling (potential), but does have a very good skill set, or in other words, a high floor.

Next Year’s Role: Sticks with Saskatoon in the WHL all season, does not join NHL club at the end of Juniors.

 

10th Overall Pick: Detroit Red Wings (via Vancouver) selects Victor Soderstrom, Right-Handed Defenseman, Brynas IF, SHL

First off, right handed defenseman are a rare breed, and whenever you have a chance to grab one through the draft in the first round (especially at tenth overall), you take that guy.

In Detroit’s case, they had the sixth overall pick, but I would consider it a reach if they took Soderstrom there, because of all the talented forwards. You’re probably thinking, why would Detroit, a rebuilding team, trade back when they had talented forwards to choose from? Because they have young NHL centers in Dylan Larkin and Michael Rasmussen, as well as young NHL wingers in Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou, and Tyler Bertuzzi. Not to mention, forward prospects in Taro Hirose, Filip Zadina, and Joseph Veleno.

How about young NHL defenseman, that are right handed? Madison Bowey in the NHL, and Filip Hronek as a prospect. Most of their defensive prospects are left handed, including their top D prospects in Jared McIsaac and Dennis Cholowski. So Detroit does not necessarily need forwards, and they do need a right handed defenseman, who happens to be (arguably) the second best D-man in the draft class, while also off-loading a bad contract.

Soderstrom started the season with Brynas IF’s junior team in the U-20 division, where he played 14 games, with one goal and seven assists (eight points). When he made the jump to the SHL, which is Sweden’s version of the NHL, he produced just four goals and three assists (seven points) in 44 games, with a not-so-good -11 +/-. But, the fact that he was constantly relied on and kept at the highest level as an 18-year-old against men says something.

Playing for Sweden at the World Junior Championships, he recorded one assist in four games, which was also underwhelming production. But what makes him arguably the best defenseman available after Byram is taken, is his well-rounded skill set. He is a very good skater, and has an ability to get shots on net through traffic consistently. He is good transitionally, with the IQ to know when to join the rush and attack, and when to stick back.

Despite being 5’11, 182 pounds, he does a good job using his body to win battles in front of the net or in the corners. His floor, offensively, is really low at the moment, but he is playing against men and not kids in his age group, so that sets him back a step. But he has the skating and shooting ability to give him a base in which NHL coaches can build upon once he makes the jump.

As he bulks up, and gets stronger, the more battles he will win along the boards and in front of the net defensively, and playing against men actually boosts his ceiling for his defensive game. If he’s finding success this early with his size in the SHL (and he bulks up), he could be a very reliable defenseman in his own end.

Next Year’s Role: Likely stays in Sweden. I don’t see him coming to North America to play AHL hockey, or CHL hockey. It’s best he stays in Europe one more year against tough competition to build up on his defensive game.

 

All stats via Elite Prospects

Rankings inspired by other contributors on Puck77

Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals

Puck77

National Hockey League Mock Draft Part One: Picks 1-5

With the National Hockey League entry draft right around the corner, and several other Puck77 contributors coming together to put out monthly rankings, I decided to follow up my prospect deep dive from over a week ago.

 

I have studied the National Hockey League prospects more and more, I have looked deeper into team needs, and I did my own individual mock draft, using team needs and their current situations to determine picks. I’ve also read into the few rumors swirling around the draft, which I will touch on within the first three picks. I even included one trade, which I will get to here in part one.

 

First Overall Pick, New Jersey Devils select Kappo Kaako, RW, TPS, Liiga

Ah, yes. Already I have gone against what many of you readers likely would have guessed. But I have said Kakko was going to go first overall ever since I watched the New Jersey Devils win the draft lottery.

Two years ago, when the Devils had to choose between the consensus number one pick at the time, Nolan Patrick, or the guy closing the gap for the first pick, Nico Hischier, they went with Hischier.

Hischier played in the QMJHL in his draft year and dominated, while Nolan Patrick played in the WHL and had injury concerns, so it’s a much different scenario. Jack Hughes does not have injury concerns like Patrick did, but Kakko played in a much more competitive league, against men in Liiga, unlike Hischier.

Kakko broke a record previously held by Aleksander Barkov for goals with 22 for an under-18 player in Liiga history while playing in eight less games. He has not only found success against grown men in Liiga, but he has dominated against the highest skilled players in the world, winning not one, not two, but three international gold medals with Finland, putting up a combined 37 points in 63 games. Most recently, he won gold with Finland at the IIHF World Championships, recording six goals and one assist in 10 games.

Kakko has a track record of winning, and his success against men at the club level in Finland and the international levels with Finland, it’s a no-brainer he would go number one overall in any other draft class.

But Hughes is an unreal prospect and has been highly regarded for over a year now for the first overall selection. But I think Kakko will have a higher impact immediately at the NHL level, on a line featuring Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, and himself. That is just daunting. Not to mention, he is four inches taller and 20 pounds heavier than Hughes.

This is what Devils general manager Ray Shero had to say about the type of player they were going for in the upcoming draft, per SportsNet’s Rory Boylen. “You gotta be a self starter, competitive. You have to have grit. You have to be a team-first player.” While Hughes is a team-first player, Kakko has the size advantage by a drastic amount, and while that is not entirely important anymore, Shero did point it out, and that has to count for something.

 

Next Year’s Role: 1st/2nd line RW with power play time with the Devils

 

Second Overall Pick, New York Rangers select Jack Hughes, Center, USNTDP

Hughes at two is a steal, and Kakko at two would also be a steal. Think about it, if these two guys were in separate draft classes, chances are, they both go first overall. Hughes is the best skater in the draft, and also arguably has the highest upside as well, though there are a couple others that challenge him.

But what separates Hughes, and same goes with Kakko, is his NHL readiness. He is not going to make as big of an impact as Kakko within the first season or two, but he will certainly be in the NHL next season, barring an injury.

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He absolutely dominated with the USNTDP teams, totalling 160 points in 74 games. He had an unreal Under-18 World Junior Championship with team USA with 20 points in seven games. He played really well at the U-20 World Juniors, with four assists in as many games, but obviously not as dominant. Then, at the IIHF World Championships, Hughes only put up three assists in seven games.

The concern I have is, he is less dominant against tougher competition. He dominated in the USNTDP, which is his age group, he dominated at the U-18’s and was a point per game player at the U-20’s, which is basically still in his age group. But at the IIHF World’s he struggled, while Kakko rose to the occasion and led the underdog Finn’s to the Gold medal. That’s why I have him dropping to two.

 

Next Year’s Role: 2nd/3rd line with 2nd Unit PP time with Rangers

 

Third Overall Pick: Chicago Blackhawks select Cole Caufield, Center/Right Wing, USNTDP

When I was initially planning out this mock draft, this was not my pick for Chicago. But then the rumors happened, and it seemingly appears as though the Blackhawks will select the 5’7”, Wisconsin native Caufield.

While Caufield is not a bad selection, the rumors suggest a Jesperi Kotkaniemi-esque selection, where the player has an intriguing skillset and great upside, but ranked either at the end of the top 10, or just outside. That selection has turned out to be less of a reach, and more of a great selection, in hindsight.

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For the Blackhawks, they have a player by the name of Alex DeBrincat, who is also undersized, but very talented, and coming off a 41-goal campaign. Caufield brings that goal scoring touch, as he is the best pure sniper in the draft, scoring 29 goals, along with 12 assists (41 points) in 28 games. He added another 72 goals and 28 assists (100 points) in 64 games with US National U-18 team, which is absolutely insane. But he played with the USNTDP Juniors, rather than the USNTDP club with Hughes, and that tells me he still has a few years before being in the NHL.

He also played internationally, but for only the U-18 World Juniors, where he put up 14 goals and four assists (18 points) in seven games played. It’s very clear to see he is a goal scorer, as in total (counting international games) he scored 115 goals in just 99 games. He has committed to the University of Wisconsin for the following season, where he will look to add to his resumé of being the third overall selection.

If he can score at a goal per game pace in the NCAA, he will prove exactly why the Hawks took him so early. If he even comes close, it will be super impressive, because the NCAA is a tough league to score in at the pace he has, so next season will be very telling.

 

Next Year’s Role: NCAA time with Wisconsin, maybe joins NHL late in season, like Charlie McAvoy for Boston in 2016.

 

Fourth Overall Pick: Colorado Avalanche select Alex Turcotte, Center, USNTDP

Turcotte was my initial third overall pick, but again, rumors changed that. Turcotte is my favorite prospect, and I think he has the most upside in the entire draft.

Split between the USNTDP juniors and the USNTDP club, Turcotte combined for 96 points in 53 games, with 39 of the 96 points being goals. He added another four goals and five assists (nine points) in seven international games in the U-18 World Junior Championships.

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He is a well-balanced, 200-foot player, with the skill-set to put up big numbers at all levels of hockey. He immediately helps the Avalanche’s lack of scoring depth, but unfortunately he has already committed to the University of Wisconsin to join Caufield for next season. To me, he could absolutely step into the NHL on a third line role, but he will not be there, as noted.

 

Next Year’s Role: NCAA time with Wisconsin, high chance he joins the Avalanche late in the season.

 

Fifth Overall Pick: Los Angeles Kings select Bowen Byram, Defenseman, Vancouver Giants, WHL

Something that could potentially hurt the 6’0″, 194-pound, left-shot defenseman is the fact that he did not play any level of international hockey with Team Canada. But, he is still far and away the best defenseman in this draft.

He has great size, and is also incredible offensively. He put up 26 goals and 45 assists (71 points) in 67 games played. For a defenseman, that is great. He is a complete defenseman, excelling in the transitional game with his elite skating and puck-handling abilities.

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Anticipated to be the fourth overall pick (and maybe even third overall by some draft analysts), he falls to fifth thanks to the Blackhawks taking Caufield.

The Kings could absolutely use Byram, as they have Drew Doughty, Dion Phaneuf and Alec Martinez all 29 years of age and up, and top end defensive prospect Sean Durzi, who is right handed. The defensive prospect in general is bare, but seeing that Byram does fill a need, this pick is a no-brainer. It’s also entirely possible he makes the team out of camp, but he’d need a strong camp to get a good look, and beat out Durzi, who has a higher chance due to being older, as well as Derek Forbort and Paul LaDue, both seasoned veterans. Odds are certainly stacked against him, but the talent is there, and it would not surprise me that much.

 

Next Year’s Role: Potential bottom pair minutes with power play time in Los Angeles, but likely will stay with Vancouver in the WHL until that season ends, and then join the Kings late in the season if needed. Most likely will get time with the Ontario Reign of the AHL after the WHL season concludes.

 

All stats via eliteprospects

Rankings inspired by the Puck77 crew

Stanley Cup Final Puck77 Roundtable Picks

A rematch of the 1970 Stanley Cup final, the last time the Blues reaches the series, the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues are set to do battle. The Puck77 team is here to make their picks!

Justin Miner: Blues in 6

I think long layoffs can really take the winds out of a goaltender’s sails. As evidenced in the previous rounds, both the New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes were not able to regain the momentum they had after the breaks. St. Louis should be able to use its’ size to neutralize the top line of the Bruins, so long as they avoid the penalty box. 

Conn Smythe Winner: Jordan Binnington

Kyle Pereira: Bruins in 6

The Boston Bruins have the better team on paper and while Binnington has been great, he has not nearly been on the same level as Tuukka Rask. The scoring on Boston is high powered and they bring a very in-your-face forecheck and give you no time to break the puck out cleanly. That being said, there is a way that the St. Louis Blues can win and it wouldn’t surprise me. Boston’s first forward line, and more specifically, David Pastrnak, always make that extra, unnecessary pass, that can either make a goal a highlight reel type goal, or he’ll look stupid and turn the puck over. For the Blues, they need to play physical along the boards and plug the slot area with big bodies to take away that extra pass. As for the depth lines, they need to mimic Boston’s and forecheck aggressively and give the Bruins defenders no time to move the puck. If they can play that same game as the Bruins depth pieces and shut down the Bruins top line, they only have one focus. Beat Tuukka. Tuukka is on a long break and he was on a similar break in 2013 before they faced the Blackhawks. Up to that point, Tuukka had been playing well and after the break, didn’t look as good. St Louis needs to hope for that same thing to happen for them to beat Boston. But there’s a lot more that has to go right for St. Louis to win than Boston. That’s why I have Boston in 6.

Conn Smythe Winner: Tuukka Rask

Frederick Frandsen: Bruins in 6

The reason I picked the Bruins to win, is the fact that they have built the perfect playoff team. A first line with Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron that is near impossible to stop. Something they had for a few years now, but without deep runs to show for it. The difference this year is that they have managed to fix the weaknesses of the past. They have a scary depth with Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle as two key pieces who can provide the scoring needed if the first line is kept quiet. The defense is as good as ever and players like Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk has taken the next step and has given the Bruins some much needed speed on the backend. Especially McAvoy and his speed allows him to be the perfect partner to Zdeno Chara, who has lost a lot of his speed with age, but still has the amazing size and awareness.

And then there is the main reasoning. While Jordan Binnington has been great for the St. Louis Blues, no other goalie has been at the same level as Tuukka Rask in this playoff. And if a goalie was to crumble I don’t think that will be Rask, since he has been here before. Something Binnington hasn’t and while he has looked cool and calm throughout the playoff so far, the Stanley Cup finals is a whole different beast. Therefore, I think Boston will take a close series, with Rask becoming the Conn Smythe winner in game six.

Conn Smythe Winner: Tuukka Rask

Jon Margolis: Bruins in 5

My Stanley Cup Finals prediction is the Boston Bruins winning in five games with Tuukka Rask continuing his domination in goal. The Bruins are just too stacked with their top line and have enough fire power throughout their second and third lines to keep the St. Louis Blues busy trying to stop them. To compliment the top three lines is a defense that can withstand anything the Blues throw at them. Accompanying the defense is a goalie in Tuukka Rask that is poised to win the Conn Smythe Trophy if he puts together what I think he is capable of doing.

The Bruins are too fast, and unlike the Sharks, will not get pushed off the puck or be subject to the Blues relentless checks. As for the goaltenders, yes, there is Jordan Binnington and he has been simply amazing for the last three games the Blues won. But Tuukka Rask has been here before and will continue to be dominant. Having more experience and a seasoned defense in front of him, he will make a huge difference. One more factor to mention is this is not the first rodeo for these Bruins, a large majority of the current roster went to the Cup Finals in 2013, losing in six to the Chicago Blackhawks.

One more cool stat. Should the Bruins win, this will be the only other time a city has won the World Series, Super Bowl (NFL Championship) and the Stanley Cup all in one year, Detroit did it back in 1935.

Conn Smythe Winner: Tuukka Rask

Tony Ferrari: Blues in 7

The St. Louis Blues are the team of destiny. The Blues have been the hottest team since the new year and now they are in the Stanley Cup finals. They will be in tough against the Bruins who certainly have the better high end scoring in their top line monsters. The Blues key will be their relentless forecheck and constant pressure of the puck carrier. They need to stay out of the box and make sure that they limit the Bergeron line. They are unlikely to stop it but slowing it down should be the goal.

They will need scoring from throughout their lineup to impact the game more than the depth of the Bruins can. The bottom-six of the blues will need to win their matchups. Players like Patrick Maroon and Alex Steen will need to continue to be effective. The health of Vince Dunn on the backend will be important to ensure that the Blues will have options on the back end, not putting too much on Jay Bouwmeester. Most of all, the Blues top line, specifically Jaden Schwartz will need to continue to find the back of the net.

Conn Smythe Winner: Jaden Schwartz

Josh Tessler: Bruins in 4

The St. Louis Blues have been a tough team to face and have taken down pretty tough competition, but I’m not sure they have the fire power to get past the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals. 

If you compare the Bruins to the Blues in every zone, you’ll see that the Bruins are the better squad. The Bruins forward group has had its issues including a slump from David Pastrnak at the tail end of the season, but even when someone is slumping on the Bruins, it’s hard to notice it as someone else is pitching in. In addition, over the course of the playoffs, we’ve seen Charlie Coyle, Marcus Johansson and David Krejci step up and be a dominant force in the offensive zone. In the defensive zone, the Bruins’ third pairing, Matt Grzelcyk and Connor Clifton have been dynamic. The Bruins depth is incredible and the best part for Bruins nation is that they’ve been outstanding when facing top line competition. The Bruins don’t solely have to rely on their top defensive unit to shut down top offensive units. Lastly, Tuukka Rask has been elite. I remember telling folks around the Boston area that Rask was going to be even better than Tim Thomas. A lot of folks thought I was nuts, but Rask has shown his elite talent throughout the playoffs and is worthy of a Conn Smythe.

Conn Smythe Winner: Tuukka Rask

Thanks for joining us for another round table here at Puck77. Enjoy the Stanley Cup finals! The 2018-19 season is almost at a close and now all that’s really left to do is enjoy the final. Cheers!

stats from hockey-reference.com and NHL.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals

St. Louis Blues

St. Louis Blues: How They Rate In The Final Four

The St. Louis Blues Are Eight Wins Away From Doing What No One Thought Was Possible Four Months Ago. Winning The Stanley Cup. 

And then there were four. 

The National Hockey League’s Eastern Conference Finals kicked off on Thursday night as the Boston Bruins battled the Carolina Hurricanes in a relatively entertaining affair. 

With the Western Conference Final set to kick-off on Saturday,  attention shifts to the California coast as the St. Louis Blues enter the bay-area to take on the San Jose Sharks. 

It’s already been an amazing run for the Blues, one that not many people could have seen coming (including yours truly).  Even before the horrendous start to the season (one that saw the team dead-last in the NHL as late as January 4), not many experts were taking the Blues to compete with the Winnipeg Jets, the San Jose Sharks or the Vegas Golden Knights of the Western Conference.  And yet, here we stand. 

The Blues have ridden the ridiculous play of Jordan Binnington since calling him up January 6 and haven’t looked back since. They’ve already disposed of the high-flying Jets and held off seven-plus games of a scrappy Dallas Stars team that featured a goalie-dual for the ages. Now they sit four wins away from the Stanley Cup finals, looking to become just the fourth team in franchise history to do so, and the first since 1970.

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Their run has them back in the conversation of greatest in franchise history.  The Blues have as good a shot at the title this year as any of the four teams remaining, but who has the best narrative?  Maybe your team has already been eliminated from the playoffs (or never made it to begin with) and you’re looking to figure out who to cheer on. Well you’re in luck, because I’m here to guide you through the best remaining storylines.  

Each of the Hurricanes, Bruins, Sharks, and Blues have been riding some sort of story this season, so who should YOU be rooting for?  If you’re looking for some un-biased breakdown of who that should be……well, we’ve got a lot of other great writers here at Puck77. But since you’re here, lets see how the Blues stack up against the other remaining teams.

 

Boston Bruins

No-one likes this team, and you shouldn’t cheer for them.

Carolina Hurricanes

The Canes are…

*Touches ear-piece*: I’m being told now that Puck77 is not allowing me to leave the Bruins breakdown that short and un-sweet. Sigh. Back to it…

Boston Bruins (cont’d)

The Bruins enter their series against the Hurricanes as the highest-ranking team remaining in the 2019 playoffs.  Their core is aging but the majority of them already have cup rings dating back to their 2011 title, so there aren’t many veteran guys to get behind as they chase down their first cup. 

David Backes would be the only name that comes to mind in this instance, but he’s still only 34 and isn’t playing night in and night out for head coach Bruce Cassidy.  They feature some of the NHL’s more hated players in Brad Marchand and Zdeno Chara. Look, I’m trying to find something nice to say about this team, but there just isn’t a lot of good options here. 

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There was the belief that this could be one of their last deep runs for the foreseeable future.  But with Chara coming back for one more season and emerging youngsters such as David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, and Jake DeBrusk, this Bruins squad could be around for seasons to come.  Instead, lets focus on the idea that this team was never supposed to get this far and run with that. 

The season-long story was that the Bruins could not/would not make the Eastern Conference finals because the Tampa Bay Lightning were supposed to steam-roll their way to the Stanley Cup with 16-straight wins.  Now that we know how the Lightning story turned out, it opened the door for the rest of the field in the East.  It may not be the best narrative, but it may be the best the Bruins can offer to convince the rest of the hockey world to cheer them on.

Carolina Hurricanes

I’ll just leave this here.

The Hurricanes season has been a roller-coaster to say the least.  Coming into 2018-19, the Hurricanes held the dubious record of the longest current playoff drought (sorry Buffalo Sabres fans).  The good news is that, although the Hurricanes don’t make the playoffs very often, when they do, they go deep.

This year marks just their fourth appearance in the Conference Finals since losing in the finals in 2002 (the others being a conference finals appearance in 2009 and, of course, their lone Stanley Cup title coming back in 2006), despite only making the playoffs four times in that same time-frame.  That on its own could serve as a worthy narrative to get on board with.  

However, if that isn’t enough for you, they’ve also been riding the Jerk-train ever since Don Cherry called them out on Hockey Night in Canada for their exuberant post-win celebrations.  Cherry and fellow old-guy-that-nobody-should-listen-to Brian Burke seemed to be the only people in the world that didn’t fall in love with the Storm Surge.  As the Surge’s increased in creativity, so too did their frequency as the Hurricanes rose through the standings down the stretch, settling for the first wild-card spot in the East. 

Factoring in first-year coach Rod Brind”Amour (who also happens to be the same guy that captained the franchise to its only Stanley Cup) as well as Mr. Game 7 Justin Williams (who also happens to be the same guy that scored to secure the franchise its only Stanley Cup) and these Jerks are a great team to get behind.

San Jose Sharks

I’ll say two things about the Sharks.

  • I, like the rest of the hockey world, would love to see Joe Thornton get his name on Lord Stanley’s mug.
  • I’m getting really tired of the San Jose Sharks

Sorry Sharks fans, but every year we show up in April hearing about how great your team is and how this is their year.  I’ve been listening to this narrative since Owen Nolan picked a corner from center ice.  I heard it in 2006 when Thornton showed up and won a Hart and Art Ross (oh, ya, and pinged enough pucks off Jonathan Cheechoo to earn him a Rocket Richard trophy in the process).  I heard it from 2007-2013 when Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, Logan Couture and countless other star players led them to four straight division titles as well as a Presidents Trophy in 2009.  I heard it in 2016 when they finally made it to the Cup finals, and I’m hearing it again this year.

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If you wanna cheer for Thornton, I get it. A little piece of me hopes he gets the job done this year, just so I don’t have to listen to this narrative again in 2020.

(Oh, and I’m also dreading all the takes about how the NHL continues to gift the Sharks wins in Game 7’s)

St. Louis Blues

Besides wanting to hear Gloria eight more times this season, the Blues have a pretty great narrative behind them as they look to continue their magic run. 

The Blues remain as the only team from Original Expansion in 1967 to not capture a Cup yet.  They’ve gone through multiple cores throughout the Cap Era while remaining competitive throughout, never needing to blow it all up and hit the rebuild button.  They fired their coach in November, and now current coach Craig Berube looks to join the likes of Mike Sullivan and Dan Bylsma who lead their new teams to glory. 

They have a pair of well-respected veterans in Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Steen who are still searching for their first taste of the Cup.  Oh, and did we mention that THEY WERE IN LAST PLACE IN THE LEAGUE 4 MONTHS AGO?

Apologies for the yelling.

Seriously though.  The concept that a team that was so far behind so late in the season and remain as one of the final four teams standing is unheard of.  We’ll try to ignore the fact that their success will only spark a generation of future general managers who will argue their team isn’t out of it despite behind 20 points back at the All-Star game.  Instead, lets focus on how incredible their run has been to allow for this to happen. 

Since calling up rookie goaltending sensation Jordan Binnington, the Blues have won 37 of a possible 56 games.  That’s a 66% winning percentage, or the equivalent of a 54-win season.  Their play led them to first-place in their division by the last night of their season (ultimately finishing tied for second), and had experts scratching their heads as to how they pulled it off. 

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Then came the first round against the Jets, a team that reached the Conference Finals a year ago and one that many assumed were the best to come out of the West.  Again, the Blues defied their doubters. 

Then came a scrappy Dallas team featuring their own hot goaltender in Ben Bishop.  The magic surely has to run out on Binnington, right?  Once again, the Blues advanced, this time on the back of local hero Patrick Maroon’s double overtime goal.  And now the Blues can see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

The magic is still alive, with one obstacle in their path. Jumbo Joe and the Sharks will throw what should be the biggest test of the season at St. Louis, while a date with destiny hangs in the balance.

Statistics provided by hockey-reference

Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals