Linus Ullmark’s first All-Star Weekend will be unique, as these events go.
The festivities will be held on the beach in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in three weeks. The NHL’s creative team, headed by executive Steve Mayer, is planning skills competition events that involve alligators, dunk tanks, and golf.
“I mean, we just played a Winter Classic,” Ullmark said during the Bruins’ recent trip to Los Angeles. “That was the biggest thing in my life so far when it comes to hockey. You’ve gone through that sort of thing — I think this will be a lot of fun. Totally different setting, obviously. Looking forward to seeing what they have in store.”
Would he volunteer to sit in the dunk tank?
“I’d probably do the golfing thing,” he said.
Ullmark’s first-half numbers — a 3-0 loss to Seattle on Thursday dropped his league-best record to 22-2-1 with a 1.88 goals-against average and .938 save percentage — have him at the front of the line for his first Vezina Trophy. The Bruins were on a 64-win, 136-point pace at midseason, on track to smash the league records in both categories (62 wins, 132 points). Ullmark, 29, is tracking for career bests in every notable category.
For enemy shooters, the Swedish stopper has been as intimidating as an open-mouth gator. His two-year development has been rewarding for Bruins goalie coach Bob Essensa.
Ullmark was a product of accomplished coaches: Maciej Szwoch and Magnus Helin at the Swedish powerhouse Modo, where he also studied under Ian Clark for a year. Clark, now with the Canucks, has a reputation as one of the NHL’s premier goalie gurus.
Ullmark laughed when asked about Essensa’s impact on his game. A grinning Essensa was walking toward the door, behind a flock of reporters and cameras.
Ullmark: “You want to answer this one?”
Essensa: “Huge impact.”
Ullmark: “Huge impact. Huge impact.”
Essensa, best known for his days with the original Winnipeg Jets, has been the Bruins’ goalie coach since 2003. His pupils have won three Vezina Trophies (Tim Thomas in 2009 and 2011, Tuukka Rask in 2014). Like those headstrong netminders, Ullmark is unafraid to push back against his coach. In Ullmark’s words, he doesn’t want to work with a “yay-sayer.”
“I want someone I can bounce ideas off and have a conversation with,” he said. “I also want him to be honest with me, saying, ‘This is not good enough and this is not good enough.’ Because if I don’t get to hear that, I can’t improve. I don’t want someone to pat me on the back, saying, ‘You couldn’t save that.’ No, as a goaltender, you want to be able to make all the saves.”
Ullmark credits his stellar season to comfort. After a season of adjustment, the former Buffalonian is at home in Brookline, where he and wife Moa, and their children Harry (4) and Lily (2), live with their Corgis, Barry and Bob. In arenas on the road, Ullmark is regularly spotted making FaceTime calls back home.
“A calm goalie is usually better than a stressed-out one,” he said. “You want to have that impact on your teammates and on the game itself, that whatever your opponents throw at you, you’re just going to stand there and be calm about it and show the poise. That’s what I want to show my teammates every night, every practice as well, to be someone to be relied upon.”
Confirmed: They can do so.
Tiny Thompson, the backstop of the 1929-30 Bruins, also had 22 wins through his first 26 games (22-4-0). He and Ullmark are the only goalies in NHL history who can say that.
Other than Ullmark, the only goalie who had fewer than two regulation losses through 26 games was the Flyers’ Pete Peeters, who started 1979-80 by going 21-0-5 (five ties, not extra-time losses). Also, the Senators’ Andrew “Hamburglar” Hammond was 20-1-2 in 2014-15, but only made 24 appearances that season.
When the Bruins were scouting Ullmark during his time with the Sabres (2015-21), Essensa liked the netminder’s size (6 feet 4 inches, 215 pounds), hands, and athleticism. But the coach felt Ullmark could be more comfortable in the crease — by being more active.
Ullmark, like many of his era, was a push-stop goalie. In tracking the puck, he moved to the spot that gave him the best chance to make a save, and remained there until he needed to move somewhere else.
“It was only half a dozen years ago where everything was push-stop, push-stop,” Essensa said. “I can’t tell you how many years of summer goalie camps that’s exactly what we preached. Push, stop, set.”
Particularly for netminders with Ullmark’s size, creating motion from stagnancy is hard on groins, hamstrings, and hips. Unlike with Thomas, whose hyperactive game he needed to quiet, Essensa’s main project with Ullmark has been making him more active.
Kevin Woodley of NHL.com and InGoal magazine described it as the goalie constantly flowing into the next move, when most coaches want their netminders set to receive the shot. Ullmark might use a reverse C-cut with his lead skate to initiate a cross-ice push, Woodley said, rather than being stiff, having to rotate his body and push off to the next shot.
“He creates a little momentum so there’s never any reach,” said NESN analyst Andrew Raycroft, a former Essensa student (Calder Trophy, 2004). “You don’t want to generate power from a standstill. The first save’s easy for him. He’s so big. The second save is where it helps. Tuukka got really good at it at the end. It’s what prolonged his career.”
Other goalies who try to use backflow can get caught moving too much, or not be square to the shooter. They can drift too far. But Ullmark has figured out how to anticipate the next move and stay in controlled motion.
First, however, Ullmark pushed back.
“Somebody tries something new and it doesn’t work right away, like, ‘Ah, that’s not for me,’ ” Essensa said. “So it took some trial and error for him to see some of the benefits. But eventually, and I think just for longevity’s sake, because he hasn’t played over 40 games in a season. When you bring a guy in you want him to play more than that, obviously.
“It’s not just because we built backflow into his game. It’s a bunch of other things. He’s become a really good pro on and off the ice.”
That now includes dutifully playing his part on All-Star Weekend, which has rarely been kind to goalies.
“It’s tough to make cool saves because guys are pretty good at scoring and now they have the opportunity to do it while there’s no pressure and they have a lot of time. It’s a tough one, that’s for sure,” Ullmark said. “I’m going to try to enjoy it as much as possible.
“You want to show your personality, show your flair, but you don’t want to be a goofball, you know, be a clown out there. It’s entertainment, but at the same time it’s a business and you want to look professional doing it.”
BEST MOVE TO MAKE?
Trade deadline offers tantalizing possibilities
One of the most fascinating questions in the league as the March 3 trade deadline draws closer is, “What are the Bruins going to do?”
If the best-in-show Bruins are going for a forward — to rent, or rent-to-extend — trading for Bo Horvat makes a lot of sense. He is a left-shot center, a need the Bruins have if Tomas Nosek’s upper-body injury lingers. (Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Charlie Coyle are righties.) Nosek, a prime penalty killer, has been unable to take faceoffs of late, necessitating this past week’s call-up of Joona Koppanen. Horvat, 56.6 percent in the circle as of Thursday, is one of the best in the league. But that’s hardly his only attribute.
The Canucks captain would certainly cost the Bruins one of their top two prospects, AHL Providence winger Fabian Lysell or Ohio State defenseman Mason Lohrei, as a starting point. The all-in Bruins should be prepared to pay that price, because fellow contenders such as the Avalanche and Hurricanes have greater immediate needs for second-line centers.
Like David Pastrnak, Horvat (expiring $5.5 million cap hit) is having a massive contract year. With 29 goals and 46 points through 41 games, he is on pace to smash his career-best marks of 31 goals and 61 points. He’s finishing at an absurd 24.4 percent rate, but his shooting percentage has risen in each of the last four seasons, so he might be figuring out something. And Horvat, who turns 28 in April, would also ease the Bruins’ transition from the Bergeron-Krejci years.
There are other lefthanded centers available — Ryan O’Reilly and Sean Monahan, both unrestricted free agents this summer — but Horvat would be an addition that would serve the playoff push and future concerns. O’Reilly and Monahan have also been injured of late.
On defense, the Bruins could use more size and physicality to withstand playoff punishment (think Blue Jackets UFA-to-be Vladislav Gavrikov). But it also stands to reason that another attacking blue liner — especially if he has length and experience, is righthanded, and fits well in the system — could help the Bruins continue to overwhelm teams with pace and puck movement.
As a reclamation project, maybe John Klingberg could be their next Taylor Hall. Klingberg, 30, is having a lost season in Anaheim, where he signed a one-year, $7 million deal. Sounds like Hall, who was struggling in Buffalo on a one-year, $8 million pact when he was traded to Boston in April 2021.
Hall has become a luxury third-liner for a championship contender. That could be Klingberg, but on the back end.
In 2017-18, when Hall was winning the Hart Trophy in New Jersey, Klingberg was setting career highs in Dallas (59 assists, 67 points) and earning Norris Trophy votes. Injuries and the emergence of Miro Heiskanen as the Stars’ No. 1 playmaker on the back end muted Klingberg’s impact, leading to his exit.
In Boston, Klingberg would pick up Jim Montgomery’s system quickly, as he did in Dallas. Klingberg and Hampus Lindholm were paired on a gold-medal Team Sweden at the 2018 World Championship. Klingberg would be another veteran chasing his first Stanley Cup title.
After no long-term suitors emerged last summer, Klingberg hooked on in Anaheim. As of Jan. 1, according to CapFriendly, his contract has a 10-team no-trade list. Assuming he green-lights Boston, he might cost a high-round pick, but perhaps the Bruins could fold a contract (Craig Smith?) into the return, or the Ducks could retain some of the salary, as they did when sending Lindholm to Boston last March.
Adding Klingberg would push Connor Clifton, who will also be an unrestricted free agent in the summer. The Bruins love Clifton, who they’ve developed well, but this is a go-for-broke season. There would be competition on the third pair, and suddenly the Bruins’ defensive depth — Clifton and Klingberg on the right, Mike Reilly and Jakub Zboril on the left — would look primed for the playoffs.
If Klingberg is anything close to the old Klingberg, adding him for a reduced price could be a steal. As Hall’s bounce-back has shown, the right situation can make all the difference.
Bedard still at top of draft list
No surprise to see Connor Bedard atop NHL Central Scouting’s midseason rankings.
The 17-year-old from North Vancouver lit up the World Junior Championship for Team Canada, with 9-14–23 in seven games. He is on pace for 138 points in 57 games for WHL Regina. He is an obvious choice to be drafted first overall in Nashville on June 28.
NHL Central Scouting vice president Dan Marr called Bedard “one of the more natural scorers to come along since Patrick Kane with a draft hype reminiscent of Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby. Like those three, Bedard is a player that can bring you out of your seat.”
Leo Carlsson, represented by Wellesley-based agent Matt Keator, is the top-ranked international skater. Carlsson (3-3–6 for fourth-place Sweden at the WJC) has 15 points in 26 games for Örebroin in the Swedish Hockey League. Marr called him a “competitive two-way forward” with deceptive smarts and skills.
“He generates chances at crucial times and is capable of changing the momentum of games,” Marr said.
Behind Michigan freshman Adam Fantilli (No. 2 in the North American skater rankings) comes two local products: Lexington’s Will Smith and Amherst’s Ryan Leonard. Both players, who play for the US National Team Development Program, are committed to Boston College.
The rest of the top North American skaters, all of which are forwards: Brayden Yager (WHL Moose Jaw), Oliver Moore (USNTDP), Zach Benson (WHL Winnipeg), Matthew Wood (UConn), Samuel Honzek (WHL Vancouver), and Colby Barlow (OHL Owen Sound).
Behind Carlsson among international skaters: winger Matvei Michkov (Sochi, Russia); defenseman Axel Sandin Pellikka (Skelleftea, Sweden); Slovakian center Dalibor Dvorsky (AIK, Sweden); and wing Eduard Sale (Brno, Czechia).
Carson Bjarnason (WHL Brandon) is the top-ranked North American goaltender and Alexander Hellnemo, a German-born Swedish national who plays for Skelleftea’s junior team, heads the list of international goalies.
Ducks coach Dallas Eakins, formerly of the Oilers, on Taylor Hall’s years in Edmonton: “There was an immense amount of pressure on that young man. It was extremely unfair to him.” Hall, drafted first overall in 2010, has scored 0.86 points per game for his career. Among those picked No. 1 overall, Hall ranks between Joe Thornton (0.89) and Vincent Lecavalier (0.78) . . . We’re in for at least 40 years of TD Garden, per the agreement signed this past week to extend the naming rights to 2045. Wonder if Crypto.com, which has its name on the Kings’ rink, will be around by then . . . If you — the Canucks — have Elias Pettersson (age 24), Quinn Hughes (23), and Thatcher Demko (27), and know that Bedard badly wants to play for his hometown franchise, shouldn’t you tank? . . . If the Kraken beating the Bruins — who were 19-0-3 at TD Garden — wasn’t the significant win in Seattle’s brief history, it was certainly top three . . . The Ducks had four regulation wins in their first 42 games. It’s bad in Anaheim . . . Two more trades I’d like to see: Kane to Edmonton (Oilers are desperate to break up the McDavid-Leon Draisaitl pair) and Karel Vejmelka to Los Angeles (assuming Pheonix Copley, who has been good so far, needs some help) . . . I would like to know how many younger NHLers don’t know that the president of the Bruins played Sea Bass in “Dumb and Dumber” . . . Coach-media banter from the Bruins’ California trip: Before a pregame scrum in Anaheim, the camera lights flashed on Jim Montgomery. “Got a glare on me? Bad for you guys,” he told the shooters. “I don’t see the glare off my bald head.” A reporter feigned checking his hair in the mirrored shine. Montgomery: “I’ve got the Turtle Wax on. It’s really shiny.” . . . Entering the weekend, more than 80,000 people viewed a tweet I posted Monday night asking, “What worries you about the Bruins at this moment?” Of the 300-plus comments, it wasn’t all worries about David Pastrnak’s contract or post-Patrice Bergeron concerns. That diversity of response signals to me that all this winning hasn’t softened the paying customers.
Matt Porter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyports.