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Monday, February 28, 2011

Dog days of winter passing by...playoffs around corner

When the sun comes up tomorrow, we'll be in March.

March is one month closer to the NHL draft, which is still quite a ways away at this point, but March also means playoff time for the CHL and other junior leagues like the EJHL plus high school/prep championships as well.

Bruins 2011 Draft Watch will be attending the 30th annual NEPSIHA prep tourney in Salem N.H. in person again this year, and will also see some EJHL action. There isn't a ton in the way of 2011 NHL draft talent in the EJHL this season, but there are some intriguing futures competing such as NY Apple Core defenseman Steve Santini, who is a '95 and has attracted some early attention for the 2013 NHL Draft.

This isn't a great year for New England talent. And, several of the area's top players who are not New England natives such as Choate's Philippe Hudon and Hotchkiss forward Petr Placek won't be there because their teams did not qualify. The good news is- Mike McKee's Kent School has at least made the quarterfinal, so we hope they'll at least advance to the semis so the scouts can have a look on Friday.

Avon is also in the mix and will travel to Lawrence with a chance to defend their 2010 Stuart/Corkery "Elite 8" title won last March. The Winged Beavers feature fleet-of-foot defenseman Colin Sullivan, who is widely considered the second-best New England native available in the NHL draft after Mike Paliotta.

Also bonus for being in Boston on prep tourney weekend is the fact that the Bruins are in town for two home games against Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh, so gotta love it.

March time is when things always start to get going and the draft picture really comes into focus, so stick with the blog and keep checking in regularly...we'll keep the content coming.

Hamilton rising at right time

Niagara IceDogs defenseman Dougie Hamilton is making a top-10 run for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft at just the right time.

Which of the league's 30 teams wouldn't want a guy who is already 6-4 and skates well, moves the puck, quarterbacks the power play and projects as a No. 1 or 2 defenseman at the highest level?

Bruins2011DraftWatch talked to Hamilton and his coach, Marty Williamson, and what follows is a partial transcript of some of the questions and answers given about the young man whose parents were Canadian Olympians, has a close relationship with his older brother and IceDogs teammate Freddie, and who grew up idolizing Scott Niedermayer (one of the reasons he wears #27).

Hope you enjoy the brief Q & A session with this B2011DW fave and his OHL coach.

Dougie Hamilton, D Niagara IceDogs

Bruins 2011 Draft Watch: We talked to Shane Prince recently and he said every hockey player dreams of having a great season in their draft year. Would you say that you are living that dream right now?

Dougie Hamilton: I think so. It started off in the summer for me. Getting the chance to represent Canada (at the Ivan Hlinka tournament in Slovakia) gave me a huge boost of confidence. For me, I would say I'm having a good year personally and with the way the team is playing, things are going great for sure.

B2011DW: In your own words, describe yourself as a hockey player to those who may not be familiar with you.

DH: I'm a complete defenseman. I'm one of the bigger guys on the ice, and I'm a good skater for a big defenseman. I will battle in the corners, move the puck well and can jump into the rush. I can quarterback the power play. I would also say I'm a little bit of a sneaky offensive player; I like to sneak into the play and have had some good success with that sneaky element to my game. I guess I would just say that I can do a little bit of everything.

B2011DW: Who is the toughest opponent you've faced in the OHL so far?

DH: One player stands out for me: Zack Kassian. When he sticks his butt out in the offensive zone, there's not much you can do to get the puck. Even though I'm one of the bigger guys, he just protects the puck so well and sticks that butt out and it's really tough to keep him in check.

B2011DW: You've talked about how close you are with your older brother, Freddie. What was it like for you to experience his being drafted last summer by the Sharks?

DH: It's actually kind of a funny story. We were at home (in St. Catharines) following the draft on the internet. I remember we were a little disappointed because he was rated higher but ended up dropping. It all worked out and he's in a great situation (with San Jose), but at the time we were waiting for him to get picked. Then, the internet went down and the page wasn't refreshing, so the first we found out about it was a text we got from Vizzer (Mark Visentin) or maybe it was Ryan Strome, saying he'd been taken by the Sharks. It was a great feeling for him and our family, but a little frustrating because the internet went down in the middle of it.

B2011DW: You're a high-end hockey prospect and a high achiever in the classroom. Does school come naturally for you, and what is the secret to balancing the academics with the hockey demands on your time?

DH: It comes naturally a bit, but not totally. I do my schoolwork and I work hard at it. I think that there are not a lot of kids out there who are willing to take the time to sit down and study with everything else they have going on. But for me, the work I do in school translates into my hockey. I want to be the best at anything I do; I want to be the best in school, and I want to be the best on the ice.

Marty Williamson, GM and head coach, Niagara IceDogs

B2011DW: Are you surprised at the jump in Dougie's production from his first OHL season to where he is now?

Marty Williamson: Very surprised, although it's not because I didn't think he lacked the skills to do it. Defensemen sometimes take a little longer to mature, so for him to go from where he was a year ago to being almost a point-per-game player for us, I think it really speaks to the kind of potential he has and what a bright, intelligent kid he is. He made the adjustment from his rookie season and his overall play has reflected that.

B2011DW: He comes from a pretty accomplished family; what kind of influence have his parents had on both Dougie and brother Freddie in your estimation?

MW: I think their parents have passed on the work ethic and dedication to what they love, which is for their sons- hockey. Dougie is just a focused young man; he excels in school and hockey, and he's very tight with his family. I think he learned from his parents the kind of discipline and preparation it takes to be an elite athlete. He's very meticulous in terms of how he takes care of himself and I don't know that I've ever seen the kind of regimen a young man like Dougie has. He's always the first guy in and the last one to leave the dressing room, and I think that's what will separate him from others who may have the talent but not the drive.

B2011DW: What do you think is going to be what attracts NHL teams most to him?

DH: He's got some real upside. He can lug it, he can pass it, he can really shoot it. I saw Adam Larsson and he's a fantastic player and prospect, and I think Dougie brings a similar style to Larsson. I don't think Dougie is quite as physically developed at this stage as Larsson is, though. He still has a pretty thin frame, but will be an elite player at about 210-215 pounds in a few years.

Here are some clips of Hamilton doing what he does very well thanks to NHLDraftVideo:

Waffle Watch: 2011 Boston Bruins draft pick update 28 Feb.

Well, the NHL trade deadline day is upon us and it looks as if there will be quite a bit of player movement today.

The Bruins made another minor AHL trade last night, sending enforcer Brian McGrattan and defenseman Sean Zimmerman, both in Providence, to the Anaheim Ducks for a pair of forwards and QMJHL grads in David Laliberte and Stefan Chaput. Laliberte was a fourth-round pick of the Flyers in 2004 and was Red Line Report's 104th-ranked player in their '04 draft guide. The former PEI Rocket was hailed as a solid defensive forward and character player who lacked the offensive skills to be seen as much more than a depth/lower line player. As for Chaput, the center was a fifth-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 out of the Lewiston MAINE-iacs the year they won the Stanley Cup and is a center with some playmaking ability, but is a journeyman minor leaguer who isn't likely to ever make much of an NHL impact.

As for the deadline, things will heat up shortly with some pretty big names in play, and it will be interesting to see if Toronto lands Stephen Weiss as has been rumored, or perhaps John-Michael Liles from the free-falling Colorado Avalanche. Will the Rangers grab Brad Richards from Dallas, or will someone else swoop in? The Broadway Blueshirts appear to be primed to make the most noise today, so we will see if it comes to pass.

As for the draft picks in the 2011 draft, Toronto had a strong week, winning two and then losing two in overtime, adding six points to their record and vaulting from fifth to eighth in the draft position. They're still just a few points from dropping back down (and moving up as well over Buffalo and St. Louis, but the Sabres just got Brad Boyes) and the Blues may not be done dealing, but lousy starts from Pittsburgh (not to mention a horrendous game in net from Marc Andre Fleury) and Atlanta forced those games into overtime when they could have been regulation losses for the Leafs. Bruins fans might want to start looking beyond the names they've gotten used to in the top-five all season and start researching the solid options closer to 10: Jonathan Huberdeau, Brandon Saad, Alex Khokhlachev and possibly David Musil (though his stock could drop him well out of the top-10).

We will soon see where everything sits, but unless something drastic happens, don't expect to see much come out of Boston today.

And with that, we'll look to the draft pick update...

2011 Boston Bruins draft picks as of 28 Feb (6 total picks plus one pending conditional 7th from FLA)

1st Round
8th overall- Toronto (63 points; 27-27-9)- Completes Phil Kessel trade.

2nd Round
48th overall- Minnesota (72 points;33-23-6)- Completes Chuck Kobasew trade.

3rd Round
82nd overall- Phoenix (76 points; 33-21-10) - Completes Derek Morris trade.

4th Round
115th overall- Boston (79 points; 36-19-7)

5th Round
145th overall- Boston

6th Round
175th overall- Boston

7th Round
186th overall- Florida (conditional 59 pts; 26-29-7)- Jeff LoVecchio, Jordan Knackstedt to Panthers for Sean Zimmerman, cond. 7th

Traded Picks- 2011 (4 Boston 2011 picks traded in Rounds 1-3, 7)

1st Round
25th overall- Boston pick Traded to Toronto for Tomas Kaberle

2nd Round
55th overall- Boston pick Traded to Ottawa for Chris Kelly

3rd round
85th overall Boston pick traded to Florida; Completes Nathan Horton deal

7th round
205th overall Boston pick traded to Chicago (Zach Trotman)

Boston Bruins 2012 Draft Picks

2nd- Traded to TOR; conditional: If BOS makes Stanley Cup final or Kaberle re-signed, pick goes to Leafs

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Anticlimactic NHL trade deadline approaches, Bruins prospect observations

We say anticlimactic from a Boston Bruins perspective, because it's hard to imagine the team doing much of anything else after acquiring Chris Kelly, Tomas Kaberle and Rich Peverley last week while signing veteran Shane Hnidy in a depth move yesterday.

The trade deadline is 3 pm EST tomorrow- Feb. 28- and with so many big names already having moved over the past month or so, it will be interesting if there are any more blockbusters in store, or if we will see a flurry of minor moves like last year.

One player who should have a new destination when the dust settles is New Jersey Devils center Jason Arnott. Lou Lamoriello gave up a second-rounder to acquire him last summer, and given his impending UFA status and the disappointment that has been Jersey's season, expect him to waive his NTC to go to a contender, probably for another late second-rounder (the Devils got one from Dallas for Jamie Langenbrunner in early Jan.) (EDIT: It has been pointed out to me that the pick the Devils got is a conditional 3rd, which upgrades to a 2nd if the Stars re-sign Langebrunner or win a round in the playoffs- thanks TS)

We could see Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli move some assets in the system out for futures- but for those thinking 2011 draft picks, might want to set the expectations to a little further down the line- 2012. Center Zach Hamill does not figure to have much of a future in Boston, and you could see him shipped for a draft pick or lower-end prospect.

It has been a season of disappointment for Providence, with consistency lacking and too many young players not able to handle the rigors of AHL play on a game-to-game basis. There is no shortage of character journeyman type prospects there, but as far as high-end futures at any position, the cupboard is relatively bare. It's a shame that Rob Murray and Bruce Cassidy haven't been able to get more mileage from that group of players, although we did see a nice 4-0 shutout against Abbotsford the other night, Mike Hutchinson's first whitewash in the AHL, along with a two-goal game from Max Sauve to help him break out of a two goals in 13 games slump he had been mired in. Jordan Caron is ranked near the top of the organization, but we've seen enough of him to figure out that he's going to be a solid, unspectacular NHL wing. His upside is probably that of Glen Murray, and in time, he'll be a dependable 20-30 goal guy, but he's not going to wow you or put up big numbers. He will bring a solid two-way presence and give teams matchup problems in front of the net, but he's not an elite prospect. Jamie Arniel has shown some flashes of being a solid NHL center on the bottom six, but he doesn't seem to have the offensive abilities to be much more. Greg Campbell is a nice example of an effective checking pivot and what a guy like that can do for you, so Arniel deserves some interest, but not much to get excited about.

The defensemen in Providence are nothing to write home about. We like Matt Bartkowski fine, but he's a middle-pairing guy at best and isn't going to bring you much upside. Yury Alexandrov has the most natural offense of any of them, but is a liability in his own end right now and has not developed as quickly as hoped. Colby Cohen has some offensive potential as well, but has not produced as much as hoped and has some significant work to do in his own end before he can be counted on to make an NHL push.

Collegians David Warsofsky and Tommy Cross are wildcards. Warsofsky has a lot of skill, but is extremely small and has defense issues. He suffered a concussion that held him out of the weekend series vs. University of Vermont, and that situation will need to be monitored going forward. Cross has the size and mobility to be an effective shutdown defender in the NHL if not the offensive skill to put up numbers. But, with a wonky knee, he's one of those guys we wonder if will ever play to his full potential, because he's got to have a potential career-ending injury in the back of his mind every time he jumps over the boards. The fact is- the Bruins simply cannot count on Cross as a long-term option, not because he can't play, but because his next shift could be his last. You hate to sound pessimistic, but he has yet to make it through a season injury-free since the Bruins drafted him in 2007, so until he proves it, there is always going to be some concern with him.

One final note on Boston's defensemen- Russian Maxim Chudinov is making a run up the depth chart with his outstanding season in the KHL with Cherepovets. A small, but pugnacious rearguard with two-way ability, he's tough to get a read on because of the limited viewing, but he could be a Russian version of Detroit's Niklas Kronwall- small package, big hitter, will chip in offensively. We're hoping he'll come over to Boston for development camp in July so we can get a look, and then, if all goes well, he should sign and join the team in North America in the summer of 2012.

Boston's most exciting future players at forward are in the OHL with Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner having very good seasons for London and Kingston respectively. Spooner is the more flashy, dynamic offensive player, but Knight is more complete and gets more kudos because he's really put his game together after the Hunter brothers traded so many veteran players away from London. Spooner deserves praise as well, but he's still pretty one-dimensional at this stage of his development. The good news is, he gets it and is working to become a more complete player. His lack of size is going to be the next big hurdle for him to overcome before he's ready for the NHL. Knight is ahead of the power curve in his strength and conditioning, even if he doesn't have a great deal of height either. He's strong and is able to drive hard to the net. Spooner is more lightning to Knight's thunder in that he can blaze his way through open ice and stickhandle in a phone booth to make plays. Knight will fight off defenders and take a straight line from point A to B.

We love both Knight and Spooner as Bruins prospects and believe it speaks volumes that NHL teams were trying to pry them both from Boston here over the past several weeks, but that Chiarelli held fast and resisted the temptation to make a short-term move. These two figure prominently into Boston's future plans, but that timeline might be set back a few years now given the recent veteran acquisitions.

So, what does all this mean for the trade deadline? Looks like Boston made their moves early to secure the guys they wanted and to allow them time to bond and jell with their new teammates. We don't think it was an accident that Chiarelli timed these trades to get the new guys in while the Bruins were on an extended road trip. That always helps traded players to spend some times with their mates and get to know them off the ice. Had Chiarelli waited until tomorrow, the B's might have found themselves in bidding wars and, there would not have been as much games to get these upgrades into the mix and learning the system.

It may mean the B's will be bit players tomorrow if at all, but it's a solid strategy at the very least. Whether you believe this Bruins team is capable of winning the Stanley Cup or not is a different story, but you can't fault the GM for at least thinking deep and being proactive.

Keegan Lowe and Samuel Noreau: Two Guys You Should Know

They may not be A-listers as far as defensemen go in this draft, but the Edmonton Oil Kings' Keegan Lowe and Baie-Comeau Drakkar Samuel Noreau are two pretty intriguing options as we approach the 2011 NHL Draft. Red Line Report had some interesting tidbits on both players in the February issue, so it's time to shed a little light here.

If Lowe's name looks familiar to you it is because he is the son of former Edmonton Oilers dynasty blueliner and current President Kevin Lowe. At about 6-1, the younger Lowe has been a bit slow to develop and show off much upside, but is rounding into form in the same city his dad is a household name in. He's not the most skilled player, but is smart and has grown up around the game. He's a hard worker and does the little things well, playing a sound positional game and using an active stick to take away passing lanes and forcing turnovers. He's an unselfish player who is always willing to take one for the team. You can see the evidence of this in the prolific fight videos of his on YouTube.

Lowe's offensive numbers are nothing to write home about; 2 goals and 21 points in 62 WHL games this season, but then again, his pops was never really known for his points as much as his shutdown game and leadership on the galaxy of stars that was the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s. He won six Stanley Cups (five with Edmonton, one with the Rangers) because he was a defensive anchor. Keegan is not his old man, but he may be worth investing a pick on at some point because of the bloodlines and the kind of similar attributes he's demonstrating according to reports from scouts.

Noreau is a 6-5, 215-pound tough-as-nails punisher who doesn't have much in the way of high-end skill, but has the size and nastiness to be a shutdown guy in time. He's not a bad skater, though needs to work on his lateral movement and pivots/turns like many big players on D. This dude can really fight, too. With his size and strength, he ragdolls guys and stands in and throws them against the tougher comers/enforcers in the Q. (Noreau is #8 in the red and white)

He gets very little notice on a poor team, but stay-at-home guys with legitimate toughness are always in demand on NHL teams' bottom pairing, and Noreau is someone who, with the right amount of patience and developmental time in the minors, could evolve into a functional 6th/7th in time.

Neither are top-three rounders, and let's face it-- their NHL upside is limited. But don't be surprised if one or the other are drafted earlier than you would think based on conventional rankings. They bring enough assets to the table to figure into the 2011 draft at some point.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Bruins 2011 Draft: The Case for Jonathan Huberdeau

Welcome to the third post in this blog's assessment of which player will be Boston's top pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Previously, we made cases for Kitchener captain Gabriel Landeskog and Niagara defender Dougie Hamilton. This time, we depart the OHL for the QMJHL and the league's (and entire CHL's for that matter) best team, the Saint John Sea Dogs. Gerard Gallant's crew has been running the table on the rest of the competition after getting off to a bit of a shaky start, and at the center of it all has been leading scorer Jonathan Huberdeau, who has impressed not only with his expected performance as a playmaker, but also as a lethal scorer and finisher, having tallied 36 goals and counting.

The purpose of this series is to provide the most in-depth profile of potential targets for the Bruins that you will find anywhere on the internet (that you don't have to pay for that is) and at the same time, to attempt to apply logical reasoning and scouts' thinking behind the process many tend to follow during every draft. While each NHL team operates differently than the other, the framework and strategies are largely similar, so even if you aren't a Bruins fan, this post should serve to be both informative and to possibly help you assess your own favorite team's chances of landing said player or where that player might fit in the overall scheme of things come June.

So, settle in and stay a while. We're about to make the case for: Jonathan Huberdeau.

Dateline: X-Cel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minnesota: June 24, 2011

A late-season surge by the Toronto Maple Leafs took the Boston pick out of the top-five and running for 1st overall. Sitting at sixth overall, the B's have watched while Adam Larsson, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sean Couturier, Gabriel Landeskog and Dougie Hamilton have all come off the board at selections 1-5.

Sitting at the sixth overall selection, the Bruins are expected to decide between taking skilled defenseman Ryan Murphy, or perhaps going to the forward well one more time and adding an accomplished center like Niagara's Ryan Strome or perhaps a power forward in Brandon Saad or even skill pivot Vladislav Namestnikov our of London- all players in the OHL. And then there is winger (who can also play center) Jonathan Huberdeau, who along with Couturier is considered the cream of the Quebec draft crop.

After some deliberation and what was believed a failed attempt at moving down a few spots, the Boston Bruins' brain trust moves up to the stage with the team draft jersey in hand.

General Manager Peter Chiarelli steps up to the podium and makes the call that is sure to set off some debate by B's fans given that the popular choice in Murphy is still available: "With the sixth pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the Boston Bruins select, from the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL, forward Jonathan Huberdeau."

Playmakers are nice, but when you have someone who can both set the table and finish it off, then NHL teams sit up and take notice. One of those dual threats available in the 2011 draft is Huberdeau, who has been as consistent and deadly as they come this season for the stacked Sea Dogs.

Jonathan Huberdeau, LW/C Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)


Height: 6-1 Weight: 168 Shoots: Left
Born: June 4, 1993 in St. Jerome, Quebec

Bio: 18th overall selection (R1) of Saint John in 2009 Midget Draft out of the Saint Eustache Vikings. Set a team record for rookie playoff goals last season with 11 en route to the QMJHL finals (Saint John fell to Moncton). Won a gold medal with Team Canada at the August Ivan Hlinka Tourney. Named assistant captain for Team Orr in the 2011 CHL Top Prospects Game played in Toronto.

Strengths: Good height with long arms and reach. Very good skater; rangy player with smooth, loping stride. Excellent hands; can stickhandle in traffic or dangle, using his long stick to maintain distance between the puck and would-be checkers. Soft touch for pinpoint passes. Gives and receives passes well. Heavy snap shot that he can get off very quickly. Accurate shooter who can elevate the puck in close or keep his bullet drives low to the corners when goaltenders give him an opening. Loves to score and looks great doing it. High-end offensive instincts; always around the puck and a deal-closer when the play is in tight to the net. One of the most creative players in the class; sees the ice extremely well and anticipates the unfolding play, knowing where his teammates will be and finding them with the puck. A good teammate; has a lot of flash to his game, but fits in well with the group dynamic because he isn't selfish nor does he put his own importance higher than others. Protects the puck and will go into the dirty areas. Versatile; can play center or wing. An asset more on the power play now, but has penalty killing potential at the highest level if he develops his positional awareness/play away from puck. Character kid who works hard and is a leader. Already speaks English very well, so will have no cultural challenges when he makes the jump to pro hockey.

Here is some video evidence of Huberdeau's offensive flair, compliments of Jerome B. at nhldraftvideo

For more on Huberdeau, check out this cool video by John Moore on YouTube.

Weaknesses: Extremely slight frame; lacks in physical maturity and will require significant conditioning and added mass to set himself up for the rigors of the next level. Although willing to do the dirty work along boards and down low, often gets overpowered because he lacks the functional upper- and lower-body strength that should come to him in time. High center of gravity makes him susceptible to being knocked off stride. Defense is a work in progress; play without the puck needs to improve. Not an overly physical player or fighter, but that is not a knock-- he simply plays a skill game and doesn't concern himself with things like fighting (though he did have a spirited preseason row with Montreal's Matt Provost, so the gloves are not glued on).

Style compares to: Jeff Carter With 36 goals, 51 assists and 87 points in 56 games with Saint John this season, Huberdeau shows off the same kind of scoring balance between the finish and set-up as Philly's star pivot.

Why the Bruins would pick Huberdeau: The team is still looking to upgrade its long-term offense, and a player like Huberdeau could one day be deadly on the left side with a center like Tyler Seguin and possibly a right winger in Jared Knight. Can you think of a better mentor for Huberdeau than Patrice Bergeron? Huberdeau has all the offensive tools you look for, plus nice intangibles like work ethic and an honest desire to round out his game and get better defensively. With a top-10 pick like the one the Bruins are likely to get from Toronto, teams want to swing for the fences and hit on a player who has star potential, and Huberdeau certainly fits that category given his superb offensive skills and other qualities. Anytime you can add a player who is versatile in terms of being able to be effective at multiple positions and who can both pass and score, most teams will jump on that. We wouldn't be surprised if Huberdeau were to break into the top-5 of this draft class when all is said and done, but getting him at 6 is the right kind of value and upside for a team who is in bonus time picking where it is while finishing with a much better record.

Why the Bruins would not pick Huberdeau: If the team was dead set on adding a skilled defenseman to the ranks, Boston could pass on Huberdeau. From the looks of it, he's going to need at least one, maybe two more years of major junior, before he'll be physically ready for the NHL grind, and even then, Boston is pretty deep with forwards so he could have less appeal. Honestly speaking, though, there aren't any major reasons to shy away from him, and if the Bruins were picking sixth and he's available and not gone one pick earlier, he makes more sense for them there than anyone.

What scouts are saying:

"The biggest surprise for me this year with Huberdeau is the goal scoring. I knew he was an excellent passer from seeing him last year, but I didn't see how aggressive he was going to be at taking the puck to the net and finishing off the play. He put a lot of work into his shot, and he's playing with a lot of confidence. The puck is going in a lot for him, and I don't see that it's a fluke. He's got some real upside."- Quebec-based NHL scout for Western Conference Team

"Without the work of this fluid, imaginative playmaker, there's no way (Zack) Phillips would be second in the Q in goals scored."- Red Line Report, December 2010

"Showed really soft hands on his rebound goal tight near crease. Beautiful look and cross-ice feed to set up one glorious PP chance. All-around impressive game. Made some instinctive plays at both ends. Stood up for himself and whacked a few guys with his stick. Lots of upside."- Red Line Report, February 2010 (CHL Top Prospects Game review)

Here's a good video that features Huberdeau along with fellow Saint John prospects Nathan Beaulieu, Zack Phillips and Tomas Jurco, all of whom played in theTop Prospects Game in January. Be sure to click on the "Top Prospects" video on the media tray to bring it up and play. Good interviews with all of the Sea Dogs there including Huberdeau.

Bust factor: Low. There is simply too much skill here for him to be a complete bust. The question NHL teams will face when making a decision on Huberdeau is whether he will reach his impressive potential ceiling, but given his benefits, he'll still likely play and make an impact in the NHL. There simply isn't a lot of risk with a player like this, so anything incurred is well worth it given the possible payoff, especially if you team him up with other creative skill guys, which the Bruins have either on the team or coming up through the ranks. This guy has the word stud written all over him.

The verdict: The Bruins need blue-chip talent at any position, but have to balance the risk of taking a dynamic but small defenseman in Murphy as high as six with the possible boom of a 6-1 scorer/playmaker like Huberdeau. True, the Bruins have some nice upside forwards in their system like Knight, Ryan Spooner and Max Sauve, but Huberdeau might have better offensive potential than all of them. When you have the opportunity to grab a player like that, even if it may appear that the cupboard is bare at other positions, you do it instead of reaching for a riskier prospect even if he plays a position that your team is not as strong in. It's the old adage that if you stock up on enough premo talent at one position, you can always move the surplus later to address shortcomings in other areas. Huberdeau's star is on a meteoric rise, and if he finishes out the year with nearly 50 goals and 100+ points, then he's hard to pass up, assuming he's even there at six of course.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

OHL roundup Report: Puempel out rest of the season

It just came across Twitter that Matt Puempel is done for the year with a hip injury. A devastating blow for the Peterborough Petes if true.

Although the reigning CHL Rookie of the Year's star has fallen a bit this season, he still managed to eclipse his 33 goals from a year ago, tallying his 34th the other night against Belleville, giving him 69 points in 55 games this season. He was out of the lineup in tonight's matchup against Owen Sound.

If this report is true, and we have no confirmation on it, the question becomes how will it affect Puempel's draft status? He's been productive on a poor team (he's a -33) this season, and that always counts with scouts. If he misses the rest of the year, NHL teams will have to be confident in what they've seen from him up until now, and they'll have to be sure that the hip injury is not of the chronic sort that could affect his long-term viability.

Tonight, the Puempel-less Petes got hammered by Belleville in the rubber match to the tune of a 5-1 score. Bulls goalie Tyson Teichmann had a strong night, notching just his 10th win of the season. It has been a year of incredible frustration for the Ivan Hlinka Team Canada Under-18 gold medal-winning goalie, who plummeted off the draft radar with a poor season. Scouts identified some flaws in his game to begin with but the year has been magnified with shaky play all around. Will an NHL team take him late and hope that he's similar to Kevin Poulin, a touted goalie coming into the season who faltered in his draft year before getting his development back on track. Our thinking is that the year has been so tough that it will not come to pass.

Bulls winger Austen Brassard has been another disappointment, posting just 13 goals and 26 points in 56 games after much was expected from him when acquired from Windsor last season. He had no points in the win over Peterborough. The 6-2, 191-pounder has some upside, but any hopes of being a top-round selection went by the wayside before the calendar year flipped over to 2011. Someone will likely take him in possibly the second or at least third round because of his size and hands, but he's not backed it up with production up this season.

In the London-Saginaw game, B's prospect Jared Knight notched a pair of assists, to push his point total to 62 in a 4-2 win. Unfortunately for the Spirit, Brandon Saad is injured and not in the lineup. However, fellow Keystone stater Vince Trocheck had an assist on the night. A skilled centerman who plays bigger than his 5-11 size, Trocheck has 22 goals and 55 points this season. Not bad production out of the OHL sophomore.

Bad news for Niagara: Ryan Strome is still out after taking a sucker punch from Joey Hishon last week. The incident was an ugly one and resulted in a five-game ban for GM/coach Marty Williamson, who went off on the referees for their, what certainly appears to be, blatant incompetence. How else can you explain the OHL giving Hishon a six-game vacation after Matt Parlette and Keith Caval accused Strome of taking a dive and did not assess a penalty on the play to Hishon? That kind of keystone cops routine doesn't play well at any level, regardless of what's at stake.

Niagara got an offensive outburst in the third period with five goals to close out the Erie Otters by a 6-3 tally. Defenseman Dougie Hamilton, a B2011DW favorite, put up an assist and in the effort. He now has 11 goals and 50 points in 56 games this season, and is a +30 with 69 minutes in penalties. That's some pretty nice production from a guy who came into the year having to answer questions about the offensive element in his game. He's not the best puck mover, but with his wheels and cannon from the point, Hamilton is going to appeal to a lot of teams holding a top-10 pick in this draft.

Ottawa stumbled in action against Windsor, with Shane Prince out again with a bad shoulder. Tough break- he's a real offensive presence when he's in there, but it's tough to generate offense without the ability to put torque on a shot or move the puck accurately. With his lack of size, that will open up durability concerns, but there is no question that this guy can play. Hope he get back in action soon! Quiet night for the 2011 eligibles on Windsor- Alex Khokhlachev was held off the scoreboard. The dynamic scoring forward has 33 goals and 66 points in 57 games in his first OHL season. Had he been born then, Van Halen's "Light Up the Sky" would have been written for him. Big Jack Campbell stopped 26 of 27 shots for his 18th win, a 4-1 score.

In Sarnia, 2012-eligible Nail Yakupov is doing it again, with a thee-assist night in a 3-1 lead over Barrie that has pushed his scoring line to 41-44-85 in just 54 games. Wait, what? Sick. He's primed to break it open in his draft season next year and take the top spot in the draft. You can check the 2012 Draft Watch section in the labels on the blog mainpage for more on Yakupov.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Portland: A destination d'jour for NHL scouts

For the second consecutive season, the WHL's Portland Winterhawks are a hot view for NHL scouts working the Western Canada sector and those crossover guys and management types who are no doubt being summoned there by the regional guys.

Last year, it was Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Johansen and Brad Ross, all of whom went in the top-45. Johansen of course, was the surprise pick of the 2010 NHL Draft, going fourth overall to Columbus, while his higher-profile teammate Niederreiter went one slot later to the Islanders. Ross became property of the Toronto Maple Leafs after Brian Burke made a deal with Chicago to move back into the second round to nab the skilled agitator.

This time around, the Winterhawks appear poised to do it again, with two solid first-rounders in Ty Rattie and Sven Bartschi, as well as a darkhorse, solid second-rounder in defenseman Joe Morrow. There is even another player in defenseman Tyler Wotherspoon, who could be a top-three-round pick June.

We're going to break down the Portland offerings for you. While perhaps not possessing the high-end, top-five impact that the Winterhawks class of '10 did, these guys are going to bring another strong Portland flavor to the 2011 draft. Mike Johnston is doing real good things there with the 'Hawks, and if they make a deep run in the WHL playoffs/Memorial Cup tourney, you could see the stocks of Rattie, Bartschi, Morrow and Wotherspoon go up even more.

Ty Rattie, RW-- Although the skilled Albertan is just average-sized at about 6-feet, 170 pounds, this guy is one of the top offensive talents in the entire class. With 26 goals and 71 points in 58 games, he's just three points away from doubling his entire rookie season output. Scouts love the blend of his skill and creativity. Where last year, he was more of a player who was trying to pull off flashy moves without using his teammates or the available time and space available to him, this season, Rattie has been able to take control of the offensive flow and put opposing defenses on their heels. A slippery, elusive skater who is a master of handling the puck in tight spaces, Rattie is one of those "now you see it, now you don't" types who makes defenders look foolish because he's so dangerous in close and around the net. He may not be the explosive skater you want to see from guys of smaller build, but he's extremely agile, quick and uses his outstanding vision and ability to read the play to gain a step on opponents and get himself into prime scoring areas.

Sven Bartschi, LW-- Another high-end scoring presence. Bartschi is an interesting contrast to Swiss countryman Neiderreiter; the two are very different in terms of what they bring to the table. Bartschi is an excellent skater; very quick off the mark and able to back defenses up with his speed. He likes to cross-over and weave through the neutral zone and take opponents out of their lanes. He's got a quick stick and has a vicious little shot that despite his small 5-10 frame, has some power and gusto behind it. On the downside, Bartschi is not only one-dimensional, but tends to play a perimeter game when faced with a more aggressive or physical defense. At the World Juniors, he showed off his impressive skill set, but spent too much time on the outside, where his effectiveness was hindered. Yes, he was still able to score (thanks to that shot we talked about earlier), but how much better would Bartschi have been if he went into traffic more or took the puck straight to the net. We believe Bartschi will be a first-round pick in June-- he's simply too talented to slip. That said, we would be very leery of spending a top-20 on him. On paper, Bartschi is a high upside prospect. But, the best hockey players excel at the wars in the trenches and are able to overcome brute strength with a willingness to go into the dirty areas and get greasy. We haven't seen that enough from Bartschi, and so while he's a flashy sportscar, he may not bring the kind of economy or value you want if picking 15-20.

Joe Morrow, D-- Although some were hoping Morrow would stay under the radar when the season got underway, that is not the case. Players with his kind of size, skating ability and breakout pass/big shot are always in high demand, especially in today's NHL. At 6-2, 200 pounds, he's going to play about 210-215 when he finishes his physical maturation. He's a smooth skater with a long, fluid stride. He sees the ice well and has a real steady touch with the puck, able to get it out of the zone quickly and up for the attack. He has a cannon shot from the point that he likes to use. He could stand to work on the mechanics and getting it off a little faster, but when you have a howitzer like that, it makes life nice when on the power play. The December 1992 birthdate has made sizeable strides in his development over the past several years, going from 0 goals, 7 points in 41 games as a rookie in '09, to 31 points last season to 7 goals, 37 points and counting in just 47 games- having missed time to injury. He's just two points behind Troy Rutkowski for the team scoring lead by defensemen, and Rutkowski has had the benefit of playing 12 more games than Morrow has.

Tyler Wotherspoon, D-- The meat-and-potatoes offering of this group, Wotherspoon doesn't bring much in the way of upside, but is a solid defensive presence who plays an effective positional and physical style. The problem with Wotherspoon, as we hear it, is that he projects more as a shutdown defender, and when you're his size- only 6-1, 190, that isn't the most exciting proposition for NHL scouts, especially with just 2 goals and 10 points in 51 games this season. Shutdown guys generally need to be bigger and stronger with a longer stick/wingspan/reach than Wotherspoon has in order to have the appeal to take them early in the draft. Adam McQuaid is a good example of this trend-- drafted in the second round in 2005 by Columbus despite not having a ton of upside. He's turned into a fan favorite in Boston because he has the size and snarl to be a legit shutdown guy. Wotherspoon carries more risk because he's pretty average-sized when you get down to it and lacks any kind of real skill that jumps out at you. As such, he could slip down a bit more than his Central ranking would lead you to believe.

That wraps up the quick trip to Portland. They are a heck of a team and are a playoff favorite, so it will be interesting to see how far they can go with such an impressive youthful core of 1992- and 1993-born players on the roster.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Jurco helps Saint John win 14th straight

The Sea Dogs are clearly the class of the QMJHL and puck whiz Tomas Jurco is doing his part to revive his stock after slipping at the WJC and just after.

They just won their 14th consecutive game handily tonight with a 4-1 victory over Halifax despite missing a few guys up front.

Jurco netted his 28th goal in 49 games and is coming on at just the right time. When you watch how dangerous he is with the puck and look closely at his sublime release, it isn't hard to understand why people were gushing about him last season.

He's no longer the potential top-10 pick scouts and hockey people were talking about, but if he heats up in the postseason, then anything is possible. You just have to understand that you're getting a player who is pretty one-dimensional, and so long as you make that devil's bargain, you'll be pretty pleased with what Jurco can bring to the offense.

He's just one part of a very slick (should we say sick?) Saint John machine.

Readers of the B2011DW blog will be getting to know Jurco's teammate Jonathan Huberdeau in close detail in the coming days, so stay tuned.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Landeskog back and cruising

The Kitchener Rangers missed Gabriel Landeskog, who was out until just a few weeks ago with a high ankle sprain suffered in action at the World Jr. Championship in late December.

Landeskog is the team's captain, the first European player to hold that distinction in a storied OHL franchise's history. He's as refined a player as you can find at age 18...a very good skater who plays a distinct North American style and is an ultra-competitor.

Talked to an NHL scout recently who told me that if the Bruins want to have a reasonable shot at Landeskog, they'll need to be in the top-three to make it happen. Granted, his overall upside may not be as high as others at the top of the draft, but when it comes to the complete package both on and off the ice, there may not be a better player available in class.

"I saw an article that mentioned that he idolizes Jarome Iginla and that's when it hit me- Landeskog is a very good comparable to Iginla," the NHL scout said. "Iginla is who he is because he does everything; he scores, he fights, he's a leader and character guy. That's what Landeskog is for Kitchener."

We're still down with the observation that Landeskog is a hybrid of Mats Sundin and Brendan Shanahan, but Iginla works as well.

Since returning to the Rangers lineup on Feb. 4th (his previous OHL game was played Dec. 18th) Landeskog has 6 goals and 13 points in 10 games-- not bad for a player coming off the injury he had. He didn't score in his first four games back, but has hit for six in six since. He now has 31 goals and 58 points in 42 games. Contrast those numbers to Jared Knight's from a year ago (36 goals, 57 points in 63 games), and you can see why this Swede is going to be such a hot commodity in St. Paul.

The draft blog already made the case why Landeskog makes sense for the Bruins on so many levels here. For the Bruins, the chance to make Landeskog a potential bookend winger on a line with Milan Lucic or Nathan Horton is something they would likely jump at. Also, he's so advanced at this point, that he may be ready to play in the NHL next season, even with concerns over the way Tyler Seguin's development has gone. You have to remember that the two are completely different players in terms of style and substance.

But, if Landeskog keeps the scoring up, they may not even get a shot at him picking at three if all broke right for them with the Toronto pick.

So, the question becomes: will the B's try and trade up a couple of spots to get him if they are at four, five or later, or will they stand pat and take who they get wherever their pick ends up?

There's much hockey to be played yet, but the picture is coming into focus.

Waffle Watch: 2011 Boston Bruins draft pick update 21 Feb.

A big night for the waffle watch Saturday put the Toronto Maple Leafs back into the 5th draft position after they had surged ahead on consecutive wins over Boston (with Mikhail Grabovski scoring in the game's last minute) and Buffalo in one-goal games. The newly-acquired Craig Anderson and the Ottawa Senators shut them out on Saturday (though it happened in the shootout- Ottawa couldn't score either) and a win by Florida boosted them into a three-way tie points-wise with Toronto and Colorado, who has gone into the tank. B's fans will hope the blockbuster deal that brought Eric Johnson to Denver will help, but with the Avs giving up Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk in the process, it's going to be tough.

The Devils are surging, just three points behind the Leafs and winners of seven straight and even the NY Islanders are keeping pace (six points behind TOR), though don't expect that to last. I have a feeling the Isles will sell off some assets at the deadline and fall back well behind the Leafs in the standings. If they don't, then it will be a major credit to the young Islanders, because it will mean they didn't roll over. And, Al Montoya got his first NHL shutout the other night after the Isles acquired him from Phoenix, so good on the former 6th overall pick in 2004 for doing something with the opportunity he's been given.

As for the Leafs, they'll be interesting to follow. In the span of 10 days, they've traded away Francois Beauchemin, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Kaberle, getting only Joffrey Lupul back from Anaheim as far as a player who is helping them in the present. Brian Burke now has some future building blocks, having acquired Joe Colborne from Boston, plus a pair of late firsts from the Bruins and Flyers, plus a third-rounder this year and conditional second in 2012 from Boston.

Speaking of the Bruins, they are considerably lighter in the wallet and picks department, having added Chris Kelly, Kaberle and Rich Peverley to the roster over the past week at the cost of a first- and second-round pick plus other assets. Boston is a better team today than they were the last team we posted a Waffle Watch update, but the question is-- are the B's legit contenders? We shall see.

Here is the pick update. I will break out the traded selections in a separate section so as not to confuse. Bruins still have plenty of draft assets to make a splash in June, so things are still pretty solid for the future.

2011 Boston Bruins draft picks as of 21 Feb (6 total picks plus one pending conditional 7th from FLA)

1st Round
5th overall- Toronto (57 points; 25-27-7)- Completes Phil Kessel trade.

2nd Round
48th overall- Minnesota (68 points;31-22-6)- Completes Chuck Kobasew trade.

3rd Round
84th overall- Phoenix (73 points; 32-19-9) - Completes Derek Morris trade.

4th Round
115th overall- Boston

5th Round
145th overall- Boston

6th Round
175th overall- Boston

7th Round
186th overall- Florida (conditional 57 pts; 25-26-7)- Jeff LoVecchio, Jordan Knackstedt to Panthers for Sean Zimmerman, cond. 7th

Traded Picks- 2011 (4 Boston 2011 picks traded in Rounds 1-3, 7)

1st Round
25th overall- Boston (73 pts; 33-19-7) pick Traded to Toronto for Tomas Kaberle

2nd Round
55th overall- Boston pick Traded to Ottawa for Chris Kelly

3rd round

85th overall Boston pick traded to Florida; Completes Nathan Horton deal

7th round
205th overall Boston pick traded to Chicago (Zach Trotman)

Boston Bruins 2012 Draft Picks

2nd- Traded to TOR; conditional: If BOS makes Stanley Cup final or Kaberle re-signed, pick goes to Leafs

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Andrei Makarov: A Guy You Should Know

Friend of B2011DW Nathan Fournier, who runs The World of Junior Hockey blog, sent me some stats on Lewiston Maine-iacs goaltender Andrei Makarov this weekend, prompting me to get off my dead arse and get a writeup on the talented Russian who struggled early, but has come on of late.

Makarov didn't even make the top-33 in Central Scouting's North American goalie rankings at mid-season, which really underscores the struggles he had adjusting to the play in the QMJHL/North America after coming over amidst such high expectations. But, he's really turned things around, earning Q Goalie of the Week honors a few weeks back.

Fournier provided the following stats on Makarov since Central's rankings came out: 5-4 with 2.78 GAA and .918 save percentage. He's been getting in more important games of late, and played well in the loss to Montreal last Thursday, according to Fournier.

Red Line Report was pretty high on Makarov before the season (47th in the August issue), but plunged him down to 195th on the February rankings. It will be interesting to see if he ends up on the rising section next month or if he starts to climb back up a bit.

At 6-1, 195, he's got the frame and athleticism to be a good one in time. But, I'm always reminded of a conversation I had with Arturs Irbe, Latvian superstar and former NHL netminder now goalie coach for the Washington Capitals, who told me that as rule, Russian goalies don't get a lot of coaching and are usually thrown into the nets to stop pucks and survive on their athleticism until they can develop a measure of technique.

Haven't seen a lot of Makarov to know whether his problems had more to do with technique, loss of confidence, culture shock or what have you- a combination of all perhaps- but he's the kind of player who could be stolen with a late pick and his image rehabbed with some development camp work and possibly a change of scenery.

In any case, Makarov is a guy you should know!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Bruins are traders on Friday: Add Kaberle, Peverley, Valabik to mix

Now that the dust has settled a bit on Boston's big day of trades and then culminating in a 4-2 win against Ottawa to go 2-0 on their six-game road trip, it is time to look at the deals that strengthened the team today. The jury is out as to whether this Bruins team can contend for a championship in June, but they are better than they were just last night when they thumped the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.

Tomas Kaberle, D

To Toronto: Joe Colborne, Boston's 1st-round pick in 2011 NHL Draft, conditional 2nd-round pick in 2012 NHL Draft

The Pros

- Offense: Kaberle instantly becomes Boston's best puck mover and distributor. You could already see the effect he had on the transition in his Bruins debut- hitting long lead passes from his own end well into the neutral zone, and crisply moving the puck around from the point while with the man advantage. He brings a dimension that has been sorely lacking on Boston's backline, but the question that lingers is: will it be enough?

- Experience: Although he's not seen a sniff of the playoffs since right before the NHL lockout in autumn 2004, Kaberle has a wealth of NHL regular season games under his belt and has been tested enough in the postseason, that he should bring the kind of calm and heady play that the B's will need in the spring. His playoff totals are not much to write home about- just six goals and 28 points in nearly a season's worth of playoff games (77), but he brings the kind of veteran savvy and skill set that will give Claude Julien the confidence at crunch time that Steve Kampfer simply would not.

- Equalizer: Kaberle's presence in Boston will take pressure off of the other defensemen in the lineup to perform beyond their capabilities. Is it any accident that Dennis Seidenberg scored a PP goal tonight now that Kaberle is around? His arrival opens up the ice a bit from some of the other guys, but more importantly, it frees them up to keep things simple and not get themselves into hot water by trying to do too much.

The Cons

- Defense: Performance in his own end and the physical element are not Kaberle's bag. In fact, he's a soft player when you really get down to it. Hit him hard and take away his time and space, and he becomes far less effective. This means that Kaberle's partner is going to have to shoulder much of the load when the play shifts into Boston's end. He's effective enough positionally, but isn't going to make much contact and tends to play the puck not the man. In the tight-checking contests (translation: playoff hockey) he tends to disappear.

- Contract status: The UFA-to-be immediately puts an onus on Boston to extend him, but is that the best long-term option for the team? Obviously, he's getting his audition here over the last few months of the regular season and playoffs, but even if he were to play well, it raises concerns about investing another long-term high-dollar contract in a player who is getting a little long in the tooth and whose best years are probably behind him. The B's couldn't re-sign him now if they wanted to, but they're going to be in an awkward position if he bombs (they paid a high price for a rental) and even if he plays well.

Outlook: Even if he may not be the ideal option to put in a Stanley Cup contender mix, Kaberle's still better than a good percentage of available players on the market. It was no secret that the Bruins had coveted him since their aborted attempt to trade for him in Montreal coming up on two years ago. He liked the Bruins and Ray Bourque as a kid, and seems genuinely thrilled to be back in the legitimate playoff hunt (yes, Leafs fans- we know you guys are much closer to that eighth and final playoff spot, but good luck with that without Kris Versteeg, Rejean Beauchemin and your top PP quarterback). Kaberle certainly helps the Boston cause. But how much is what we're going to find out. And, even if he ends up being a revelation, it forces Boston to accept risk in signing him to an extension where the returns could diminish the ROI.

As for what Boston gave up, losing Joe Colborne is tough, but the Bruins weren't going to be able to dump flotsam and jetsam on Brian Burke and call it a day. Colborne was a player the Bruins had high hopes for and is a good kid, but he was not without his flaws, and at the end of it all, the B's simply were not willing to part with 2010 draft picks Ryan Spooner or Jared Knight in any deal. Consider those guys "fenced" barring some kind of earth-shattering deal. The first-round selection will be later in the top-30 and will only really be missed by the hardcore draftniks- i.e.- the good folks who read this blog in the month of February and earlier (please take a bow). It's a key asset, yes, but Kaberle is a legitimate NHL player still in his prime who can help right away. You have to give to get. There's also a 2012 2nd-rounder going to Toronto if the Bruins make it to the Stanley Cup finals or re-sign Kaberle.

Effect on Boston's 2011 Draft: Say goodbye to another top-60 pick in 2011, but with the assets the team has acquired over the last several years, they felt Kaberle was worth the price. The B's are still looking at one early pick in the 1st and a middle-of-the-round selection in the second (Minnesota). They can still make some hay on draft day, though it won't be as prolific a time as we expected. But, we also expected some of these picks to fly out the door, too. Peter Chiarelli made it clear that he was looking to upgrade the team this season with players who can help now. That's what he's trying to do, and these kinds of early picks are the coin of the realm these days. As much as we hate to admit it sometimes, you can't have it both ways-- you can't hoard your prospects and picks and yet still expect to come away with players who improve your NHL club. Something has to give and because of the modern economics involved, roster-to-roster swaps aren't as easy to pull off as they once were.

Rich Peverley, C
Boris Valabik, D

To Atlanta: Blake Wheeler, Mark Stuart

The Pros

Cap hit: Is there a better veteran player bargain in the NHL these days than Peverley? With one more season at $1.325 million, he's a top-nine forward who scored 22 markers last year and could hit 20 this season as well if he heats up down the stretch (14 at the time of the deal). Valabik only makes $762k and is ticketed to the minors on a two-way deal. He'll be an RFA and easy to re-sign should the Bruins want to try and make Slovakia's second-biggest hockey import a reclamation project. They might as well, given that he idolized Zdeno Chara as a youth and is no doubt thrilled to be in the same organization as Big Z.

Versatility: Peverley is another "glue" guy, but he can score as well. He provides a nice, unheralded boost with his ability to score and set up the play, and should fit in nicely in Boston. Valabik is the gigantic shutdown defender who plays a physical game in his own end. The Bruins acquired Colby Cohen who is an offensive defender who lacks defensive skill/awareness. During the course of the season, Chiarelli has added two defenders who bring completely different skill sets to the table. That's called upgrading your system-- didn't happen through the 2011 draft, but helps out all the same.

The Cons

Forward logjam: The Bruins are pretty stacked at forward right now, so with Peverley on board, Daniel Paille is likely the one headed back to the press box as a healthy scratch. Will the team make another move to shake things up a little or will they stick with the status quo? How will Peverley fit into the group dynamic? It doesn't make for much of a weakness on paper, but there isn't much of a dynamic element up front with this team, and Tyler Seguin could be another guy whose ice time gets cut with the new addition. Given his improved play of late, that would be a shame.

Outlook: This trade was mainly about Boston clearing the cap space to make the Kaberle acquisition legal. The team loses two players making almost $4 million for a pair making half that amount. Atlanta gets two NHL players who will contribute, but Stuart is a UFA and Wheeler is RFA. Valabik goes to Providence and may never get a shot in Boston, but he's at least an asset young enough to try and develop further. Peverley is a more well-rounded player than Wheeler is, and I think he'll fit in nicely with the group of players in Boston.

Effect on Boston's 2011 Draft: None.

As a bonus, here is Red Line Report's take on Valabik seven years ago when he was draft eligible:

Boris Valabik scouting report; re-printed from Red Line Report's 2004 NHL Draft Guide

Rank: 29 (Drafted 10th overall by Atlanta)

Behemoth blueliner has come a long way in a short time. Huge man just buries opposing forwards and is still growing at 6-6/228. Heavy hitter who doles out punishment and is a physical presence. Keeps crease clear and wins battles down low. Has decent mobility for a man his size, though he still needs to improve footwork and turning ability. Uses long reach well and when he has you tied up, you're not getting loose. Had never fought before coming to North America, but by end of season was one of OHL's top scrappers, registering 300 PIMs. Puckhandling, while improved, is still only adequate at best. Can make basic plays, but not creative and most disturbing is his slow thought process in decision making. Usually exhibits good stick and body position.

Projection: Top-4 d-man, provides physical presence.
Style compares to: Stephane Quintal/Pavel Kubina

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Fallout from Five Nations: What we're hearing

Every year, players rise and fall based on the 5 Nations Cup in February.

It's the one major under-18 tourney that showcases many draft eligibles from hockey powers USA, Russia, Sweden, Finland and Czech Republic before the April under-18 championship series.

One player not available for scouts this time around was Czech power forward Dmitri Jaskin, who is still recovering from knee surgery and was held out of the tournament. A shame because folks really wanted to get a look at him. He'll have a shot to elevate his stock when he returns to action and in the April under-18s, but this one would have been a good showcase.

Exchanged an email with a strong scouting source today, and got a few general observations about the 5 Nations that will post here for some thought.

Also, as mentioned previously, American Rocco Grimaldi did a lot for his own stock, scoring five goals in the first two games and showing the skill and moxie that should offset his lack of size. He's been the U.S. Under-18 team's top scorer all season, and he looked like it, even though he finished second in the tourney to teammate Reid Boucher (10 points) who led the way offensively.

Another player who raised his stock was Swedish offensive defenseman Oscar Klefbom, who missed time due to flu, but stood out in his limited chance to impress according to reports. A very good skater and puck mover who can advance the puck on his own, he's also got very nice size at 6-3, 200 pounds with room to grow.

A pair of Swedes who did not help themselves a great deal reportedly were Victor Rask, who continues to struggle after immense expectations coming into the season, and defenseman Jonas Brodin.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A look at the NTDP 2011 draft options Pt. 2

We're back with some observations and analysis of the U.S. NTDP draft options in net and on defense based on the season to date and the most recent victory in the Five Nations Cup played in the Czech Republic last week. In case you missed it, the forwards were profiled here.

Here also is the link to the USA Hockey press release for the 5 Nations and Vlad Dzurilla (Under-17) tourney wins.


John Gibson, 6-3, 200 -- The top netminder available in the 2011 NHL Draft continued to justify that standing with scouts in this tourney. Gibson has excellent size and is extremely athletic, with all the quickness, flexibility and lateral agility NHL teams want to see at the position. He's the modern, prototypical butterfly netminder who is exceptionally adroit at taking away the lower portion of the net and takes up a large amount of the rest of the space, leaving shooters very small spaces to hit. What makes Gibson a cut above so many of his peers who possess similar physical attributes, however, is his calm, composure and ability to shrug off the pressure of big games and tight situations. Originally committed to Ohio State, Gibson shifted gears much to the chagrin (and ire) of Buckeye fans everywhere when he opted for arch rival Michigan instead.

Matt McNeely, 6-2, 205-- Minnesotan and Duluth Bulldogs recruit has some real long-term potential, but is nowhere near the refined and poised goalie his partner is at this stage. Resembles Gibson in the net with his size and stance. Not quite the athlete nor is he as poised and composed as his counterpart, but there is some upside here. Needs work on his technique and should end up being a mid-round pick from an NHL team that will give him all the time and patience to develop. He's done well in limited playing time at the NTDP and would be competing for the Frank Brimsek Award as Minnesota's top HS goalie (won last season by B's prospect Zane Gothberg) if not for being in Ann Arbor.


Robbie Russo, 5-11, 189 --
Some scouts are really high on the Illnois native, others not so much. Russo is a smallish, mobile puck mover who had some high expectations coming into the season but has been up-and-down for those who have seen him regularly. Pretty average skater given his sub-6-foot height, but manages to get the puck up the ice effectively enough. Committed to Notre Dame University. A bit overrated in some circles-- one of those players that you either really like or are pretty tepid on. Count this blog space in the latter group. Russo has some positive attributes, but he just seems like a reach where some scouting lists have him.

Mike Paliotta, 6-3, 196-- Big and mobile, Paliotta was the 32nd-ranked North American skater by Central Scouting in their mid-term list. Like Russo, scouts we've talked to are divided. Red Line Report had him in the first round of their rankings up until last month when they dropped him into the second. Much of that has to do with a lack of pure production from him, which given his skating and size, may mark him as more of a shutdown 'D' at the next level as opposed to the always in demand puck mover with upside. Bright, articulate and driven, Paliotta will take his game to the University of Vermont next season. One NHL scout who saw him in international play had some real questions about his vision and passing skills, noting that he misfired on what should have been some high percentage plays. Another scout noted that Paliotta has markedly improved from where he was a year ago and even earlier this season.

Connor Murphy, 6-3, 192-- Former Bruins defender and current Florida assistant coach Gord Murphy's son has been out most of the year with a bad back, but this kid is certainly intriguing for his size and skill mix. He moves well for a big guy, but like most tall, gangly types, needs to get better laterally and his high center of gravity is a bit of a disadvantage until he can get stronger in his lower body. He's not much of a puck mover, but owns a booming shot. He's not a high-upside kind of defender, but he's one of those players who could be a good value pick in the middle of the draft because of all the time he missed and develop into a legitimate prospect over the next few years. His durability is a bit of a concern, but shouldn't sink him too far. Will play at Miami University with Biggs next fall.

Joe Fiala, 6-1, 180-- No frills with this guy, just a solid, defense-first blue liner. Possesses the size to be a player at the next level, but isn't going to wow anyone with his hockey skills. Heady and tenacious: has that innate feel for where he's supposed to be in his own end and makes the simple, smart play. Good passer, though not a textbook puck-mover by today's definition. Needs to work on his shot and improve accuracy and release. Not the prettiest skater, but gets from A to B effectively enough and seems to be solid in just about every area. Could be one of those sleeper picks who doesn't have a high-round pedigree, but wills himself into being a player in the big show through sheer effort and dedication.

Jake McCabe, 6-0, 195--
Wisconsin native and Badgers recruit is coming on. Doesn't have great size, but plays a physical, banging style and seems to be pretty effective as a stay-at-home D. Don't have a lot of ink on him to date, so need to expand the viewing profile, but comes off as another solid, capable and hard-working kid who goes about his business with a minimum of fanfare. As a late '93, he is not eligible until 2012.

Barret Kaib, 5-9, 182-- Another big man trapped in a small man's body. Skates very well and plays a surprisingly physical style for someone of his size. It works for him at this level, but he's going to have durability issues as the competition gets bigger and stronger because he sticks his nose in and writes checks his body will have trouble cashing. He's a poor man's David Warsofsky; doesn't quite have the offensive skills of the BU standout, but is similar in terms of being a small defender who plays with a chip on his shoulder, as if he's gotten sick and tired of hearing everyone tell him he's too small to play defense. Unfortunately for Kaib, he lacks the elite skill level of a Ryan Murphy for example, to project him as an NHL defenseman down the road. Pennsylvanian is committed to Providence College and should thrive under Tim Army.

Andy Ryan, 6-1, 200-- Another defense-first, no-nonsense defenseman who has battled injuries this season and has a more limited viewing profile.

Matt Van Voorhis, 5-7, 162-- Explosive speed and whirling dervish player, but not much of an NHL prospect at this stage of things. Simply too small to be considered a legitimate draft option, but could work his way into the mix eventually as a free agent. May need a switch to forward to do so, however. Committed to University of Denver.

A quick look at the Chris Kelly trade

By now, you know that the Boston Bruins traded their second-round selection in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft to Ottawa last night for center Chris Kelly.

The 30-year-old veteran is a respected two-way forward but his maximum for points in a single season was 38 and he's never scored more than 15 goals in a campaign (he has 12 this year- two more than Blake Wheeler, three more than Gregory Campbell for some perspective).

Here's a quick look at what Kelly brings and how the deal affects Boston's draft.

The Pros:

- Speed: Kelly is an excellent skater with quick burst and an extra breakaway gear. He's one of those guys who is always moving his feet.

- Experience: Kelly has been an NHL regular since the first post-lockout season and was a member of the Senators team that made it to the 2007 Stanley Cup final series.

- Special Teams: A solid penalty killer, he sees quite a bit of time when his team is shorthanded on the average (2+ min/game) and has the time in the league plus the anticipation to be pretty good. That said, he's also a member of one of the NHL's most mediocre PK units (23rd) so saying he's an ace PK forward on a lousy team is kind of like saying that your garage survived a house fire that burned everything else of value up.

- Character: A gritty competitor and leader in the dressing room by multitudes of accounts, not to mention fan favorite, he's the kind of guy who should help the Bruins, who have trouble mounting 60-minute efforts on a regular basis. Plus, he appears to be the kind of guy who steps up his game in the playoffs, which is what the B's need. That said, his actual postseason production is nothing to write home about, so any assertions that he's good in the playoffs are subjective ones.

The Cons:

-Hands: He has very average puck skills and not much finish. Think Travis Green when he came to the Bruins after being a decent scorer as a younger player. Problem with Kelly is-- he's never been much of a scorer even as a younger guy, so he could surprise and tally a few big ones, or he might barely register on the scoresheet. He's a wildcard because he doesn't have the natural scoring chops others do, so his goals must come from hard work and opportunism.

- Cap hit: His deal is pro-rated this season, so pretty much a wash, but next year, Bruins will pay him $2.125 million. That's a lot for a bottom-six forward, and it means that the B's will have more than $5 million tied up in Kelly, Campbell, Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton assuming nothing changes, and Brad Marchand will be up for a new deal given his ELC is up this summer.

- As much as Peter Chiarelli and the Ottawa sector will sell you on Kelly's virtues, his faceoff statistics are actually pretty middle of the pack (he's about 50%) and in reality, he's "just another guy" or JAG. Problem is-- he's an expensive JAG in terms of his cap figure and he cost a top-60 pick in the process. Some will argue it was fair value, but I've talked to two NHL scouts today and they both feel a 2nd was too much for what Kelly brings. Again-- this is a subjective argument, but the scouts know what kind of player that 50-60 pick will bring, and so you have to wonder about Chiarelli helping Bryan Murray and Ottawa with their major rebuild, already helped by the Mike Fisher trade last week.

Outlook: Looks like this one could go either way: Kelly could come in and be another Campbell who energizes the team and sacrifices his body for the good of the team while scoring timely goals, or he might be more of a modest acquisition who doesn't accomplish much like Marty McInnis in 2002. We will have to see, but my personal feeling is that a 2nd-round pick is a lot to give up for a player who is pretty similar to a lot of what the Bruins already have- grinder types who play with heart, but at the end of the day, aren't going to get you much offense.

Effect on Boston's 2011 draft: In a vacuum, the pick itself is not a huge loss, but it makes you wonder if the B's see these picks as expendable commodities and will be giving up more of them in the 12 days between now and the trade deadline? I am participating in a mock draft, and used the 56th pick- the one traded to Ottawa- on Medicine Hat winger Kale Kessy, a player with potential as a kind of poor man's Milan Lucic right now with some upside. Whether or not the Bruins would or would not have picked Kessy there is not as much the point as the fact that in a pretty deep draft, there is some nice value in the 50-60 range is. The Bruins have essentially sacrificed that for a "good dude", but we're still very much up in the air as to whether Kelly's contributions will be what Boston needs going forward.

All in all, this deal has polarized folks. Some people hate it, others are arguing that a player of Kelly's character was needed. What we know for sure is that the Bruins now have proven they have no compunction with dumping their surplus picks for players they think they can help now. The question now becomes, is their evaluation spot on? And, given that this appears to be a move to set something else up, possibly for a d-man, how much more will the Bruins have to pay to acquire their target player(s)?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A look at some NTDP forward prospects for 2011 (pt 1 of 2)

With USA's recent run of success both at the Under-17 Vladimir Dzurilla tournament and in the Under-18 Five Nations Cup played in Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic, traditionally viewed as the tuneup before April's Under-18 Championship tournament, we'll look at some of the key American players eligible for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft just a few months away.

The interesting thing about USA's performance in going 4-0 at the Five Nations last week/over the weekend is that this year's team is not considered as strong as their 2010 counterparts. A year ago, the Americans dropped a game to Russia in Belarus, finishing 3-1, but this season's squad went undefeated. Of course, last year's Team USA then returned to Belarus to capture gold at the 2010 Under-18s, so the 2011 club will have the same expectations.

Here's a look at some of the forwards, with the defensemen and goalies to follow in a later post.

Tyler Biggs, RW-- Power forward prospect is Team USA's top draft prospect given his excellent hands, strength and nasty edge to his game. His lack of elite puck skills and an uneven intensity from game to game is what is holding him back from being a surefire top-10 selection, but he could still manage to find that range if he continues to play well this season given his physical gifts and the ability to dominate when he's on top of things. He can do it all, from scoring to fighting and intimidating, and he's got natural bloodlines (his father, Don Biggs, was an AHL and IHL star back in the day). At 6-2 and about 210 pounds, he's going to grow even more into his sizeable frame. His heavy, hard shot with a lightning release strikes fear into goaltenders at this level and is one of his best attributes. With 5 goals in 14 USHL games this season, he's proving himself against older, more experienced competition. He doesn't, however, handle the puck all that well, and his hockey sense/creativity is a question mark. The Ohio native is taking his game to Oxford and Miami University next season and will make the Redhawks a formidable draw.

NHL scout's take: "Power forwards like Biggs sell themselves because they have all the physical attributes that others simply don't possess and never will. I've seen him more involved this season and he's playing with some real confidence. He needs to pick up a step, but this guy is such a competitor and he'll do all the things you want in a player of his type like go hard to the net and pay the price physically. He's a nasty fighter, too. If he can continue the consistent play, then I think you could see him go off the board pretty early."

Rocco Grimaldi, C--
This pocket-sized dynamo is a draft underdog because of his small size even though he's arguably one of the top-five most skilled/talented available players in the class. He plays the game like a wild stallion, firing his 5-6, 165-pound frame up and down the ice like he was shot out of a cannon. Outstanding on his edges, he can make high-speed turns to shake defenders and rip through seams in opposing defenses. For such a small guy, he has an excellent shot that he can wire to any spot in the 4 x 6 cage from just about anywhere in the offensive zone, and he sees the ice extremely well. The North Dakota recruit lit up international hockey powers Sweden (hat trick) and Russia (two goals) in the first two games of the Five Nations, and is primed for a big spring run. The size will always be a hurdle, and some have expressed concern for whether he can fight through the traffic he's going to face at the highest level. That said, given his desire and leadership, he's the kind of gamble an NHL team should gladly make.

NHL scout's take: "The kid is such a dynamic, noticeable player whenever he's out there. You can see how competitive he is and how much he wants the puck on his stick, and I don't think the skill is in doubt at all. Where I worry a bit is in those games against the bigger, more effective checking teams where he tends to be kept to the outside and isn't as effective. But the thing with players like Grimaldi is that if they have the will and work ethic to make themselves into a player, then they usually succeed."

Adam Reid, LW-- Scouts love Reid's size (6-3, 205) and two-way game. A good straight-line skater who could stand to improve his first-step quickness, Reid has an active stick and is a heady, instinctive player. Another solid recruit in Greg Cronin's dynasty-building effort at Northeastern, Reid has some of the best raw upside of any NTDP player this season. Like Grimaldi, who is a fellow Californian, Reid has a pretty good net presence and has shown the ability to finish plays in close. Although he has a lot of physical developing to do, keep an eye on him going forward.

NHL scout's take: "To my view, Reid has come a long way from where he was a year ago. He's got that prototypical size you want, although the strength isn't there yet. He's more of a all-around forward than an offensive presence like Grimaldi or even Biggs. But, I like his intelligence and he sees the ice pretty well. I think his development curve is on the uptick and he's one of those intriguing guys who doesn't have big numbers now, but could have the potential to really take off as he matures in the next few years."

J.T. Miller, C-- A bit of a riddle this season because skill and potential-wise, Miller is right there with Biggs in terms of being the best NHL prospect the team has to offer at forward. Unfortunately, the Ohio native and former Pittsburgh Hornets standout has had a tough time living up to expectations this season. At 6-1, and approaching 200 pounds, he's got the nice size at the center position that teams love, and he has all the tools to be a scoring presence including solid skating technique and a long stride, very good stickhandling skills and a nice array of shots. Miller has the vision to make pinpoint passes, and is a fine puck distributor. He'll also initiate contact and while he's not a physical force on the level of Biggs, will hold his own when the checking increases. He's one of those players who won't have a consensus going into the draft, but could have a few teams who like him enough that he'll come off the board higher than expected.

NHL scout's take: "I expected bigger things from Miller from what I've seen, to be honest. You can tell that he has the talent, but at the end of the day, when the game is over and I'm looking back at what I saw, he's left me wanting more. He's one of those guys who can take charge of the flow of a game, but doesn't always do so. But, if you're looking at talent alone, Miller is definitely one of the better guys on that club and seems to put in the requisite work. It's just not coming together for him as much as you would expect."

Reid Boucher, LW-- Lack of size (5-9) is a bugaboo for Boucher, but he proved at the 5 Nations that he can definitely be a going concern up front for USA. Michigander has been right up there with Grimaldi this season as a player who gets it done offensively and creates a major challenge for opposing defenses with his quickness and ability to exploit soft areas in the o-zone. Currently committed to Michigan State, he's going to give the Spartans a nice option up front.

NHL scout's take: "I guess you could call him a 'poor man's Rocco Grimaldi' in that he's not quite as skilled, is a little bigger but still does a real good job in the offensive zone. I'd say Boucher is underrated; he's got all the qualities you look for except the size. I like his finish and tenacity; he's got a great nose for the net and fights hard for loose pucks. He's a project player for a team with some depth and patience to let him develop."

Cole Bardreau, C-- Big man trapped in a small man's body. Plays a sandpaper game with a lot of courage and fire. New Yorker is going to Cornell, and should be a very good NCAA player. How he projects in the NHL is something that is still up for debate, however. He's got a decent skill level, but is not elite, lacking the stickhandling and powerful shot of his smaller teammates like Grimaldi and Boucher. Still, he's a character guy and the kind of player you win with because he works hard in all zones and isn't afraid to stick his nose in. Like many smaller agitating types involved in the dirty areas of the ice, he's going to take his share of lumps and suffer the bumps and bruises that result.

NHL scout's take: I really like his intensity and courage, but wonder about the upside. He's a good player and when he competes, plays bigger than his size. But, I don't know if he's skilled enough to be able to do it in the NHL as effectively as he can at this level."

Zac Larraza, LW-- One of the bigger (6-2 frame) and most purely talented of the USA forwards, Larraza has yet to put it all together. He skates extremely well for such a tall kid, with a long, fluid stride and the ability to get off the mark quickly from a stop. Denver University recruit has the hands and finishing skills, but may not see the ice all that well and has trouble in terms of trying to do too much on his own. Definitely another raw, project pick who will need time and patience.

Blake Pietila, LW-- Another small, speed guy in this group of undersized skill forwards. Although only about 5-10, he's of stocky build and relishes physical contact. Not ultra-skilled in the hands department, he does move well and generate chances with his feet and head. Going to Northern Michigan University next season where he could join B's prospect and NTDP grad Justin Florek.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Waffle Watch: 2011 Boston Bruins draft pick update Valentine's Day edition: 14 Feb.

Not a bad week for the Waffle Watch. Toronto won a few, lost an OT game to the Devils they should have won, and then got shutout in Montreal, but the teams above and behind the Leafs in the standings won (with the exception of the Oilers who seem like a pretty big lost cause at this point). They've lost three in a row and now hold the dubious honor of being in the NHL's basement. Better luck next year, guys, eh? But, if they finish there, they could align themselves for an outstanding defenseman in Adam Larsson, or they might even opt for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who has been tearing it up in the WHL for the nearby Red Deer Rebels. If Steve Tambellini and co. take RNH, you can bet it will be because they saw enough of him to truly feel comfortable with making him their go-to pivot for the future. Players in the backyard tend to benefit from that kind of geography if they have the goods.

Colorado is in free-fall as well, having lost 7 in a row. They are just four points ahead of the Leafs, with the Panthers just one spot below them in the standings and three points ahead of Toronto. The good news is, the Leafs are entering a tough schedule stretch, and it all starts with a big head-to-head with the Bruins in Boston Tuesday night.

Now as for the Toronto pick, we're hearing more and more that the Bruins want to load up and make their push for the Stanley Cup this year. Based on what was seen in two back-to-back losses against the Detroit Red Wings, they don't have the horses and even a trade for that all-important PMD won't solve all of Boston's woes. That said, when your goalie is having the kind of season Tim Thomas has, the GM owes it to the players and the fans to have the guts to try (there is a cool story about that last phrase- "the guts to try" related to the failed Iranian hostage rescue attempt in 1980- Google it).

Chicago GM Stan Bowman has emphatically declared Brent Seabrook off the market, but is that the whole truth and nothing but, or one of those endorsements akin to the kiss of death that we've seen in the past. Time will tell, but I would guess that unless a team massively overpays for Seabrook, he'll still be a Blackhawk when the deadline passes. Another defenseman who has obvious appeal to the Bruins is Atlanta's Zach Bogosian, former third overall selection in 2008 who was rumored to be a player the Bruins made an effort to trade all the way up for until Don Waddell politely rebuffed them and took the OHL stud himself. Bogosian has struggled in his third NHL season, and if ever there was a time to trade for him, it is now. Question is-- will Rick Dudley be interested in sending Bogosian away? He's got to know what kind of potential the Thrashers have in that kid. Like Seabrook, he'd have to be blown away by an offer, but Dudley has never been shy about making trades before, so this is one dog that could hunt come deadline day.

That leads to one final rumor that seems to have some appeal with some in the Boston media: Tomas Kaberle and Kris Versteeg back to the Leafs for that Toronto 1st. To me, that deal on the surface looks like a move, but the reality is- it would look better on paper than in reality. Kaberle is Charmin soft and soon to be an unrestricted free agent. Yes, he's an excellent puck mover and PP point man, but how good a fit would he be in Boston? And, would he be a rental player for the team that actually thought they'd acquired him two years ago? Kaberle's play has gone south in the months since Boston had that aborted deal for him in Montreal and even if you look at his career playoff stats, he's got 6 goals and 28 points in 77 games-- is that really the guy you think is going to be a postseason stud? As for Versteeg, he'd be likely better in Beantown than he's been in Toronto, where the B's improved depth would serve him better than he's had to be as one of the Leafs' go-to guys. He's more of an improvement than Kaberle would be, but as much as Versteeg's game is what Boston needs, I don't know that he's worth giving up that top-five pick for. I'm sure some will disagree, but that's my position- Versteeg is more of a luxury and not an essential component, though I believe lots of folks would love to have him back. The fact is- he never should have been traded away in the first place.

All things considered, if the Bruins are going to make a big move, they'd be much better off going with one or the other potential studs in Seabrook and Bogosian. Kaberle and Versteeg carry more risk and who wants to see that pick go right back to Toronto and let the Leafs off the hook? I'm sure Toronto fans would dig it. And ultimately, Peter Chiarelli will have to decide if that's the kind of move he's going to make. Sure, it would allow him to address two areas in one transaction, but don't forget the old Frederick the Great quote: "He who defends everywhere, defends nowhere." What that means is, if you're going to use the key assets to make a big move, then get a stud player at one position or the other, don't get a couple of good players who may or may not be the key to an extended run. If Kaberle were a little tougher, that would be one thing, but the guy has been unable to make himself part of even a playoff solution for the Leafs in five straight years. You'd think the Bruins can do better, especially since he'll turn 33 just a few days after the trade deadline. He's not getting any younger.

Bruins are best served going younger with longer staying power in Seabrook or Bogosian or any other defenseman with upside who might be available on the market. None, however, no matter who they are, will come cheap.

And now, here's the standings watch for the week:

1st Round
5th overall- Toronto (52 points; 23-27-6)- Completes Phil Kessel trade.
25th overall- Boston (69 points; 31-18-7) (Boston moves to 25th by virtue of third seed- Northeast Division lead with fewest points of division leaders even though technically lower than other teams in standings)

2nd Round
47th overall- Minnesota (65 points;30-20-5)- Completes Chuck Kobasew trade.
55th overall- Boston

3rd Round
79th overall- Phoenix (61 points; 26-19-9) - Completes Derek Morris trade.
Boston pick traded to Florida; Completes Nathan Horton deal

4th Round
115th overall- Boston

5th Round
145th overall- Boston

6th Round
175th overall- Boston

7th Round
186th overall- Florida (conditional 52 pts; 23-23-6)- Jeff LoVecchio, Jordan Knackstedt to Panthers for Sean Zimmerman, cond. 7th
Boston pick traded to Chicago (Zach Trotman)