The Bruins’ pro scouting staff has been busy. This past week, they gathered in Boston for meetings. They took a field trip to Providence to watch the P-Bruins’ second-round matchup with Hershey.
In Providence, their task, among others, was to monitor the progress of some of their top prospects, including Jake DeBrusk, Matt Grzelcyk, and Zane McIntyre. They could help the parent club fill their three top areas of need in 2017-18.
Or some of the prospects could be wheeled to fill the deficiency best addressed via trade: a left-shot defenseman to complement Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug.
DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Peter Cehlarik, and Anders Bjork — the latter if he decides to turn pro — are among the internal candidates to ride with David Krejci on the second line. The Bruins believe that among this cluster, at least one will be ready to occupy the position that was, for the most part, left vacant in 2016-17 amid the shortcomings of Ryan Spooner, Frank Vatrano, and Matt Beleskey.
DeBrusk scored 19 goals and 30 assists in 74 games as a first-year pro. DeBrusk, the second of the Bruins’ three 2015 first-rounders, showed good smarts and soft hands once he acclimated to AHL pace.
In the regular season, McIntyre went 21-6-1 with a 2.03 goals-against average and .930 save percentage in Providence. McIntyre was not ready for NHL action this past season. But if the Bruins believe he will be a better No. 2 than Anton Khudobin, McIntyre’s regular-season and playoff experience should prepare him for life as an NHL backup in 2017-18.
Whether the Bruins have anyone as close internally at left-side defenseman remains to be seen.
Grzelcyk (6-26—32 in 70 games) had a good first pro season. So did Rob O’Gara (4-9—13 in 59 games). But they may not be ready to fill the profile of the defenseman the Bruins have in mind: a young but experienced puck-mover who can also take dependable shutdown shifts. Such players are not plentiful in any organization.
There are, however, players in this category who may be available in the upcoming month who do not usually land on the trade market. Before June 17, when protected lists must be submitted to the league, the Golden Knights’ 30 rivals will be dashing to acquire assets instead of giving them away for free in expansion.
For example, in a normal offseason the Bruins would not want to trade Colin Miller. The skilled right-shot defenseman is 24 years old. He is entering the second season of a two-year, $2 million deal. He can push the pace and hammer the puck.
But a confluence of circumstances — the glut of right-shot defensemen, a shortage of left-shot defenders, the expansion draft — has put Miller’s name in trade chatter. If the Bruins protect Chara, Krug, and Kevan Miller, they would prefer to receive something for Colin Miller instead of seeing him land on the Strip for nothing.
Teams in such a position would want expansion-exempt assets in return: first- or second-year pros, prospects, and picks. The Bruins have players in all three categories.
“I think we’ve had an opportunity to really see what we have coming up,” team president Cam Neely said. “Maybe it gives us an opportunity to use some of those prospects to add somewhere else, in a sense, where if something was appealing to us where we’re getting a younger player with some experience, we may have the assets to be able to do that.”
Here are teams that could be more interested in trading their left-shot defensemen than seeing them become Golden Knights:
■ Minnesota. If the Wild go with the 7-3-1 format, they are likely to protect Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, and Matt Dumba. This leaves them with two defensemen the Golden Knights would sprint to select: Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella. Of the two, the 23-year-old Brodin (3-22—25, 68 games, 19:34 average ice time) fits the Bruins’ preferred profile more than the 27-year-old Scandella (4-9—13, 71 games, 18:20 average ice time). Brodin is a consistent all-around defenseman, deployed by coach Bruce Boudreau in all situations (1:50 per game on the penalty kill, 1:31 on the power play). Brodin is a good skater, smart positional defender, and wields a sharp stick.
■ San Jose. The Sharks’ three back-end priorities are Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Paul Martin. This would leave Brenden Dillon unprotected. Dillon, 26, is older than the Bruins would prefer. He has three years remaining on a deal paying him $3.27 million annually, according to capfriendly.com. Offense is not Dillon’s strength. But the ex-Star is a rugged and dependable presence who is a good third-pairing defenseman.
■ New York Islanders. GM Garth Snow is likely to protect Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic, and Johnny Boychuk, leaving Calvin de Haan unprotected. De Haan, who saw time alongside ex-Bruin Dennis Seidenberg, is coming off a career-best 5-20—25 line in 82 games. The three-zone defenseman, a first-round pick in 2009, is looking like a late bloomer. De Haan will be restricted and eligible for arbitration, where his points will play in his favor.
■ Washington. Vegas GM George McPhee would love to select Nate Schmidt. In 2013, McPhee signed the undrafted Schmidt following his junior season at the University of Minnesota. The 25-year-old has become an excellent skater with the puck, able to serve as a one-man breakout. Brian MacLellan, McPhee’s successor in Washington, does not want to see Schmidt walk. But MacLellan has to protect Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov, and John Carlson, while hoping McPhee takes Brooks Orpik and the two years remaining on his contract. The latter won’t happen.
Sullivan at his best in Game 7
Without Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins would not remain in the running to be repeat champions. The former backup, shifted into starting duty following Matt Murray’s lower-body injury in Round 1, was outstanding in Game 7 against the Capitals. Fleury stopped 23 shots through 40 minutes, using every part of his body and equipment. He made his most dazzling save on Alex Ovechkin’s second-period one-timer when he got a piece of the blast with the shaft of his stick. The Capitals brought the pain, especially early in the first period, by controlling the walls, driving pucks deep, and sending multiple waves of attackers toward Fleury.
Fleury, however, did not have to bail out his team at the most expected time: in the third period.
By then, the Capitals looked like a beaten team. They managed only six shots on goal in the third, the segment when desperation should have kicked in and gave them a final boost. Instead, they couldn’t break the puck out cleanly, couldn’t get good entries over the blue line, and couldn’t sustain any kind of zone time.
In the third, Fleury didn’t make the difference. Mike Sullivan did.
Game 7 was among Sullivan’s sharpest coaching performances. Minus Murray, Kris Letang, Trevor Daley, and Carl Hagelin, Sullivan scribbled together a game plan that Washington couldn’t solve. The Marshfield native instructed his defensemen to activate, his forwards to forecheck ferociously, and all of his players to occupy the shooting lanes.
Even after a failed Ovechkin clearing attempt led to Pittsburgh’s second goal, the Penguins did not sag back and protect their zone. They kept on chasing the Capitals up the ice. It was Pittsburgh hockey at its best: a five-man swarm with a first-on-puck approach. The Capitals never came close to scoring in the third.
It is all over for this iteration of the Capitals. T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Karl Alzner, all unrestricted, are not likely to be back. GM Brian MacLellan has to use the Capitals’ cash toward raises for their restricted free agents. Even if Evgeny Kuznetsov was nowhere to be found in Game 7, the skilled center should double his current $3 million annual salary. Andre Burakovsky and Dmitri Orlov, also RFAs-to-be, will have their hands out for more.
Next season’s version will have to lean more on young players. It remains to be seen whether prospects such as Jakub Vrana or Madison Bowey will be ready for NHL status, and whether coach Barry Trotz will give them meaningful shifts. Sullivan has had no trouble leaning on kids such as Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust. The ex-Bruins coach has become one of the best in his profession.
Shattenkirk could leverage Wings
The Red Wings are in a vulnerable spot. They are eager to improve their roster after seeing their 25-year postseason run come to an end. They have closed Joe Louis Arena and are moving into Little Caesars Arena in 2017-18. They are committed to paying the aging Niklas Kronwall $4.75 million annually for the next two seasons.
This all makes them players to pursue Kevin Shattenkirk, the best free agent defenseman in a barren blue-line market. The 28-year-old will command an average annual value north of the $6 million Detroit is paying Mike Green, another right-shot defenseman with a similar skill set.
Shattenkirk’s puck-moving touch would help the Wings get the puck onto the sticks of burners such as Andreas Athanasiou. But Shattenkirk is at his best as a power-play specialist and third-pairing even-strength defenseman. It’s the position he filled in Washington, behind Matt Niskanen and John Carlson, and St. Louis, after Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko. He would be a top-four defenseman in Detroit, which would put him at risk of playing against better scorers.
As much as the ex-BU defenseman would help the Wings, Shattenkirk would have to assume a bigger role — one he might not be suited to fill. In turn, Shattenkirk could use Detroit’s pursuit to drive up his price with a suitor where he’d be a better fit.
The Lightning, for example, need a right-shot offensive-minded defenseman to complement Anton Stralman. Tampa Bay has to save money to re-sign Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, and Jonathan Drouin. But if they consider one of the forwards expendable to strengthen their back end, it could leave a space and salary open for Shattenkirk.
School’s out for the Olympics
Federations have informed coaches of amateurs eligible for the 2018 Olympics that they are likely to be called to the Winter Games in early February. The tournament will start on Feb. 9, 2018, and conclude on Feb. 25. So local collegians such as Ryan Donato (USA) and Dante Fabbro (Canada), who could be under consideration by their respective countries, should expect to miss approximately one month of their college seasons. The players will be released by the end of February. After taking post-Olympic breathers, they will be back in their regular lineups for the conclusion of the regular season and be ready for the start of their league postseason tournaments.
LA didn’t pay a king’s ransom
Tanner Pearson scored a career-high 24 goals in 2016-17. It is a threshold the 24-year-old should surpass consistently given his age, shooting touch (12.8 percent career percentage), and the Kings’ commitment to boosting offense under coach John Stevens. As such, GM Rob Blake did a good thing by locking up Pearson to a four-year, $15 million extension on Tuesday. The left-shot Pearson is both an accurate and high-volume shooter. According to corsica.hockey, Pearson attempted 17.65 shots per 60 minutes of five-on-five play, second-most on the team after fellow sharpshooter Tyler Toffoli (18.07). It’s a higher rate than those of Mike Hoffman (14.84), Chris Kreider (14.22), and Carl Hagelin (13.7), who are also speedy left wings with noses for the net. Pearson’s $3.75 million average annual value is lower than that of his three comparables. Pearson should still be scoring at a high rate by the end his contract. By then, it will look like an even better deal than it does now.
Curious tendency for Rangers
The Senators have weaponized the blocked shot, with none better at the skill than Erik Karlsson. Through two playoff rounds, Ottawa had blocked 195 shots. Karlsson blocked 24, second-most on the team behind Cody Ceci (37). Karlsson has mastered the art of placing his shin pads in front of shots, deadening pucks, and peeling away on the counterattack. For this reason alone, the Rangers should have kept the cycle going down low and looked for openings below the circles. Instead, their forwards used their points when they skated pucks out of the corners in the offensive zone. The Senators were happy to see this happen. They filled lanes, stepped in front of pucks, and turned potentially dangerous cycles into non-events. Among New York’s blue liners, only Ryan McDonagh is skilled enough with the puck to change approach vectors by walking the blue line or adjusting his release. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault never adjusted his game plan to account for the Senators’ shot-blocking habits. He will have to reconsider this part of his thinking.
Star is born with Bishop’s deal
After acquiring Ben Bishop from Los Angeles for a 2017 fourth-round pick, the Stars signed the ex-University of Maine goalie Friday to a six-year, $29.5 million extension. By accepting an annual average value below $5 million, Bishop scored security of term that will most likely take him into his expected decline.
Couldn't be more excited to be part of the Dallas organization for the next six years!! Can't wait to get started!— Ben Bishop (@Benbishop30) May 12, 2017
But for at least the first half of the deal, Bishop will give the Stars certainty they went without this past season. The inconsistent play of Kari Lehtonen (22-25-7, 2.85 goals-against average, .902 save percentage) and the falloff of Antti Niemi (12-12-4, 3.30 GAA, .892 save percentage) left coach Lindy Ruff without a go-to goalie in 2016-17. It was a shortcoming that ultimately cost Ruff his job. The 30-year-old Bishop is coming off a .911 save percentage in 32 appearances with a Tampa Bay team that fell short of expectations, partly because of injuries. Bishop, playing behind a Ken Hitchcock-led system, will give the Stars the stability they’ve been without since GM Jim Nill opted for a Lehtonen-Niemi tandem. Bishop should be good with a 60-game workload. Lehtonen, meanwhile, had a .925 save percentage during five-on-five play, a better mark than aces such as Martin Jones and Matt Murray. Nill gambled by filling his crease with Lehtonen and Niemi. He learned from his mistake.
It’s not surprising that Vegas GM George McPhee convinced skilled forward Vadim Shipachyov to sign a two-year, $9 million contract. In Washington, McPhee fostered a culture of team-building that included a Russian element. Of course, it helped that the Capitals drafted Alex Ovechkin. McPhee built around No. 8 with Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Semyon Varlamov, Alexander Semin, Sergei Fedorov, and Viktor Kozlov. It looks like McPhee is following a similar approach in the desert . . . The Penguins planned to groom Jason Botterill as GM Jim Rutherford’s eventual replacement. But the Sabres made a smart move by cutting in line and hiring Botterill to succeed Tim Murray as GM. This clears the way for ex-Bruin Bill Guerin, Pittsburgh’s assistant GM, to be one of the leading candidates to lead the Penguins when the 68-year-old Rutherford calls it quits . . . On Wednesday, CBS News interviewed Russian president Vladimir Putin regarding the dismissal of FBI director James Comey. The interview took place at a rink in Sochi as Putin, wearing a No. 11 jersey, prepared to take the ice. Fast food and chocolate cake appear to be coconspirators in keeping Putin’s American counterpart from conducting a similar rink-side chat. The Foxboro Pro Development League will start on June 14 at the Foxboro Sports Center. Some of the top teenage players in New England have committed to participating.
One weird round
The end of the Bruins’ season is tied to an opening playoff round unlike any other in the 30 seasons the NHL has used seven-game series to start the postseason. No series lasted seven games, only the third time that’s happened (Boston played six games, all decided by one goal), and that led the to second-fewest first-round games in the seven-game-series era. And the Bruins played four overtime games, contributing to a playoff-record 18 OT games in one round.