The Boston Bruins development camp was held last week and if it didn’t have a new top of the first round pick to draw people, some of the campers we’ve seen in the past were more than compelling enough on their own. Two notable prospects will be graduating this year. And one youngster in his second year made huge strides.

Malcolm Subban was a surprise pick to some just over a year ago. The goaltender, and older brother of Jordan Subban who was the Vancouver Canucks selection this June was the most recognizable name at camp. Even without the bright Belleville Bull’s color pads he sported last year, the athletic net minder will draw your eye again and again. The book on Subban coming into camp last year was that his glove side needed some polishing.

#81 Malcolm Subban

#81 Malcolm Subban

This year, I don’t think I saw him beat to the glove side even once. When I asked him about the way his save percentage climbed year over year, he credited his teammates contribution and talked about his maturity as a goaltender. Despite facing nearly a full shot more per game this year over the previous season, and taking time to play in the World Juniors the key numbers were unequivocally better. In 2011-12 he had a very respectable .923sv% and GAA of 2.50, in 2012-13 he turned in .934 and 2.14. Even more indicative is the change in his post season numbers. His 2011-12 Memorial Cup playoff stats line was 6gp, 2.93 GAA and .917sv%, while 2012-13’s number improved to 17gp 2.00 GAA, and a .933Sv%. Not surprisingly he won Canadian Hockey League goalie of the week twice, and the best Sv% and best GAA in the Ontario Hockey League.

Year over year the most improved prospect was easy to spot. More than one observer at the week’s workouts and scrimmages had to be pointed at a roster to realize the young defenseman they saw this year, was the same one they saw last year. Matt Benning’s camp was a bit curtailed by injury last summer. His hockey season however boosted his stock, and tagged him as someone more than willing to work to get to the next level.

#86 Matt Benning at Bruins Dev Camp

#86 Matt Benning at Bruins Dev Camp

A sixth round pick out of the Alberta Junior Hockey League who jumped to the USHL this year, and won the league championship under Jim Montgomery with the Dubuque Fighting Saints. In the fall hockey fans can look for Benning in black and red at Northeastern University, making the transition with him will be Fighting Saints teammates Mike Szmatula and  John Stevens.

#86 Matt Benning Defenseman

#86 Matt Benning Defenseman

Anthony Camara came into camp having had the best junior season of his career. He was successful as a physical menace and as a points producer. Thirty-six goals and sixty points through the regular season by itself would have punched his ticket to Providence, and likely to being a late cut in Boston if that’s all he did. That is not however the case. Camara earned his place on an international squad for the first time representing Canada in the WJC. Then he went to the playoffs with the Barrie Colts and racked up nine goals and a point per game in 16 appearances.

What’s interesting about Camara is that he’s not one of those elite prospect like Subban or the exiled Tyler Seguin, he was a late third round pick. Only ten percent of the players drafted in 2011 have played a single NHL game. None have been from the third round. When Camara first came to the Bruins Development camp just days after being drafted he was clearly a project. His shot was so-so, he managed to drive himself into one of the stanchions, and his skating was on a level with Glen Murray and Milan Lucic’s first season.

#51 Anthony Camara #76 Rob O'Gara #88 Matt Grzelcyk

#51 Anthony Camara
#76 Rob O’Gara
#88 Matt Grzelcyk

At some point in the last two years, the major components of that changed. Camara entered what will be his last OHL season with a career high of 9 goals. He ended it with 36, and in less games than any of his previous seasons. While his skating isn’t going to be shaming speedsters like Carl Hagelin and Emerson Etem, or ice dancer Jeff Skinner he’s improved to the point where you only notice his skating by the fact that you no longer notice his skating. Camara’s work ethic is quite healthy, writers and fans noticed it, as did Bruins staffers. During a press conference Providence Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy mentioned Camara by name four times in eight minutes. He didn’t seem at all displeased to be doing so.

 

While the off season isn’t over, the Tyler Seguin for Loui Eriksson trade currently lays claim to the biggest move off the offseason that isn’t a buyout.

The Who’s:

From Boston: Tyler Seguin RW/C, Ryan Button D, Rich Peverley F.

Peverley is the joker in this deck, undrafted he clawed his way into the NHL getting onto the Nashville Predators before moving onto the Atlanta Thrashers where he toiled until being traded to the Boston Bruins. A career .56 ppg, he’s carved out a job for himself as strong two way forward, top penalty killer and a guy who can play up and down the lineup.

Button is a young defeenseman with good agility, good hand eye coordination, and above average agility. Unfortunately the Bruins system is stuffed with defenseman, Krug and Bartkowski’s emergence at the end of the season and in the playoff run have already pushed Ference out, so this likely means

Seguin is the acknowledged biggest star in the deal. He was the first return in the Kessel trade, 2nd overall selection in the draft, and someone greatly appreciated by aesthetics. His speed puts him in the top 2-3% of the NHL, his release is reminiscent of Michael Ryder and other players with an elite release. He spent most of his junior career at center and his NHL career at right wing.

 

From Dallas: Loui Eriksson W, Joe Morrow D, Reilly Smith RW, Matt Fraser W,

Joe Morrow is perhaps the most intriguing person in this trade, certainly of those exiting Dallas. Last spring at the trade deadline he was traded for Brendan Morrow from the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Dallas Stars. With two trades in less than four months you can either take the stance that he’s really well regarded and has to be pried out of teams hands, or that he’s got issues that make organizations want to get rid of him. The 2011 draft saw him taken as the 10th defenseman and 23rd overall.

Reilly Smith the former Miami of Ohio star led the team in points in his final season, and was third in his second season. Also on the roster was Providence Bruins star Carter Camper. He’s a bit smaller than average, and a left shooting right wing with a big time shot.

Matt Fraser is another right winger signed as a UFA by the Dallas Stars, Fraser split is WHL career between the Kootenay Ice, and his hometown Red Deer Rebels. His Junior’s career featured three seasons with over 100PIMS. His professional career split between the AHL and NHL doesn’t seem to have that much edge to it as they Stars gave him 45 seconds of powerplay time this season.

Loui Eriksson is confirmed winger who plays both right and left. He’s got a career .71ppg on a team with so-so centers, he’s the owner of a 36 goal season. Eriksson plays in all situations, and produces points on the powerplay and while shorthanded. Hardly he NHL’s most physical forward his international career shows he’s got a certain comfort level with big game situations. There are three seasons left on his contract.

What it means:

For the Dallas Stars they get two guys who have played center, when you add this to their acquisition of Shawn Horcoff it says they don’t intend to be mediocre. They’ve acquired a high end player in Tyler Seguin and a respected veteran in Horcoff, the Stars want strength at center. Button gives them some flexibility for blueline depth, and Peverley and Seguins speed combined can shift whole games.

For the Bruins, they get a ton of cap relief, a winger more mature and more consistent than Seguin who is also a firmly established two way player. Morrow is the second of the top defenseman taken in the 2011 draft the Bruins have acquired along with  their own selection Hamilton. This is another of Chiarelli’s trademark depth and versatility moves.

Winner? Ask in five years. For now the Stars have completely revamped their center position. The Bruins got what they wanted, depth, versatility, and a player who shows maturity now and commitment in all three zones. The Stars will likely improve over last year and name recognition, the Bruins got some natural right wings their system lacked. If both teams got what they want, they both, provisionally, win.

 

When the Boston Bruins drafted the younger brother of the Montreal Canadien’s P.K. Subban it created a tiny bit of consternation among fans of the spoked-B. First their was the question of why the team needed yet another goalie. Even with the question of how long Tukka Rask would continue to wear the black and gold left out, to some it was a curious move.

Worse, he was P.K.’s brother. For some that was unforgiveable. The elder Subban is not only a Hab, he’s a diver, a bit of a pest and worse aHab. Some fans will never get over it.

The question for Malcolm’s Militia is: What does he have to do to be playing in Boston this year?

The shortest answer for that is: A Lot.

The long version:

Currently the Boston Bruins have Tukka Rask and Anton Khudobin signed to NHL deals for this season. Rask is the presumed starter, but Khudobin looked very solid in camp last fall against NHL players. Both are signed only through the end of the season, and together they  represent 100% of the teams NHL experienced goaltenders. Niklas Svedberg has put up solid numbers in Europe, and his numbers last season for Brynäs were eye popping in the playoffs. He’s currently signed to a two year deal and has the professional experience some of the younger players lack.

Michael Hutchinson is on the last year of his entry level deal and unlike Svedberg, has played in North America pros. In less games he also put up better numbers than Khudobin in Providence last season. One third of a goal better in GAA and almost 1/1oth better sV%. That’s four goaltenders signed with professional experience. Adam Morrison was also added to the mix, he’s spent his CHL time playing for some not especially good clubs and got into a pro game in Providence last spring.

Five goalies, two Boston roster sports. Then there’s Malcolm. No professional experience of any sort. Injured for part of last season. I’ve seen one or two scouting reports pointing out a weakness that would get eaten alive if uncorrected at the NHL level.

It is entirely possible for him to come into camp and do very well. Possibly even be the best goalie in camp. That still might not be enough to get him the NHL contract he doesn’t yet have. More than one member of the Bruins management stressed during interviews at Development Camp that goalies take time to develop, need to go through a process, and that pushing them a long quickly is undesirable.

The last decade of NHL history is awash in goalies who got to the NHL young, had success and flamed out. One is still playing in Columbus. Others have dropped out of the NHL into the AHL or total obscurity. It happens more with younger goalie than older ones. It happens often enough that most people don’t expect to see goalies under 21 playing in the NHL at all, and some put the arrival date even later.

But that is only half of the non talent based issue. The other half is that as cautious as the Bruins front office and coaching staff are, there is no way they let themselves go into a season where from the goal line out they still have all but two of their Stanley Cup winning team, and have any less NHL experience than they can possibly manage. Even with Rask and Khudobin as what most will expect to be 1 and 2, that is still less than 100 regular season NHL starts combined. It would be a bit much to ask of either one to start their first season as a number one goaltender and mentor someone not much younger at the same time. And unless a trade could be made for either Rask or Khudobin if one is pushed aside, the Bruins would end up giving up one of them for free. It is unlikely Rask would last a whole half hour on the waiver wire, and Khudobin might last 45 minutes.

It is not impossible that Malcolm Subban plays in Boston in the regular season this year, it is not however very likely.

A team USA hockey squad without New England ties would be something close to criminal. No, I take that back. It’d be a crime against the region that hosts America’s oldest NHL franchise, and nurtured the Hartford Whalers for decades. New England is where the AHL has their home offices. The Manchester Monarchs, the Providence Bruins, Springfield Falcons, Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Worcester Sharks, Connecticut Whale, and Portland Pirates all have their roots deep in the communities of New England. The Eastern Junior Hockey league holds sway over young players. Hockey East is the battle ground for some of the best academic and athletic institutes in the world.

At the current camp for team USA’s world junior squad their are four New Englanders. At six foot five overlooking Jon Gillies would require a monumental effort. One look at the numbers the towering tender has put up for the Indiana Ice over the last two years say putting the puck past him is no easier. Concord New Hampshire and South Portland Maine both claim him.

Colin Blackwell, a draft pic of the San Jose Sharks is in camp as well. The North Andover, Ma native doubled up his New England ties and is a Harvard scholar-athlete. ECAC competitors would probably rather he didn’t sharpen his skills any further at the international level as his rookie campaign’s assist total was third among forwards for Ted Donato’s Crimson.

A north shore home address didn’t stop Jim Vesey from skating into the draft as a member of the South Shore Kings of the EJHL. Nashville got a the EJHL MVP in the third round. While he’s likely headed to Harvard this fall, if he does end up playing for the Predators he would be joining Hal Gill of Concord Ma, and Colin Wilson of Greenwich Ct on the roster.

North Andover is represented by 2012 Boston Bruins draftee Matt Grzelcyk. The blueliner is headed to Boston University after having helped Team USA reach the post season in the USHL last year. Soft hands, and wheels to spare are Grzelcyk’s stock in trade.

John Gaudreau who hails from Carneys Point New Jersey will be returning to the home that adopted him sometime during last years Boston College campaign where he put up some eye popping numbers.

The Krejci for X discussions across the Boston sports scene have never been hotter. Bobby Ryan is the current most lusted for player, but moving him, even for a good return creates issues of who slides into what position.

As we all know by now Chiarelli’s lust for drafting small skilled forwards is as great as making moves for defenseman no ones ever heard of. The problem isn’t so much a question of do we have someone else who can play center but a question of who makes the most sense. If this is “a bridge year” it almost doesn’t matter who is the other pivot. If the team is in “win now” mode or at least wants fans and media to believe it is, then it might matter a touch more. Off ice issues will have to be weighed in as well.P

The case for moving Seguin to center and putting him between Lucic and Horton is one that will likely make the rounds. The problem is all three can be regarded as shoot first players. I don’t claim to be the worlds foremost mathematician, but three shooters (not counting the defensive pair) and one puck doesn’t add up to well. Another consideration is that Seguin has so far shown to be indifferent at faceoffs. Moving Bergeron to between the two big bodies would put the maximum amount of size in the top nine forwards together, and they did look good together for stretches last year.

Moving either is less than desirable for another reason. Together the Selke winning Patrice Bergeron flanked by Brad Marchand and Tyler Sequin were the most consistent line on the team all season. Given the departure of Benoit Pouliot and assuming Krejci is indeed traded they could be the only trio of the top three lines to return.

Chris Kelly played the best hockey of his career last year and did some of it with Milan Lucic to his left. He’s never held a top or second line role for long since arriving with the Bruins. The same can be said for Rich Peverley who’s played up and down the Bruins lineup. Peverley’s offensive upside is a little bit higher, but he’s also had more health and consistency issues over his career. Plugging him into the pivot slot between Lucic and Horton would certainly improve both the speed and defensive quality of the line. Peverley has averaged top line type minutes in his career, but mostly at wing and not center and in Claude Julien’s system the center position is the lynchpin of transition, defense and offense.

There are also the AHL players and Juniors graduates. Ryan Spooner’s hands have been compared to Marc Savard. I’ll leave that comparison alone for a half decade or so, but say that they are pretty damn slick. Size and adjusting to the NHL are questions 1 and 1a, speed, skating, passing aren’t in question.  Carter Camper and Max Sauve both earned time in Boston last year, both have played the pro game, both have done well. Sauve’s durability is issue number one, but like Spooner is an excellent passer and has a ready shot. Camper is also on the small side, but led the Providence Bruins in scoring despite the time he spent in Boston.

Also to be considered is new acquisition Christian Hanson who’s half season of NHL games is more than just about all his competition combined. At 6’4 and 222 he’s got size to spare over any of the other claimants. Then there is Alex Khoklachev. The skilled Russian is in the same size range as Spooner, Sauve and Camper. He signed his entry level deal at the recent Boston Bruins development camp, and also signed a deal that would will take him to the KHL. The KHL contract is for one year, to the club his father is the manager of. If however he makes the Boston Bruins out of camp he stays here in North America.

Another possibility is trading for a skilled center who can play about as well in similar ice time as Krejci. A team like the Edmonton Oilers could certainly use some better depth defense, and the looming arbitration date with Sam Gagner lowers the likelihood they will retain him after that date. The Panthers barely used Mike Santorelli last year, and he would come with a low cap hit.

Also to be considered is sliding Greg Campbell up to the third line and sliding in either a rookie, Hanson, or Whitfield into the Merlot line. Campbell has done well in a Bruins uniform managing the heavy grinding role of the fourth line and the smart penalty kill minutes and making it look easy.

Today’s skating drills were revealing. Some guys are more agile than they show in the course of a scrimmage. Not surprisingly the players who have done these drills in the past do them best. Ryan Spooner stood out and that was in no way news.  Several of the bigger players like O’Gara and Ferlin did quite well, and despite the questions about Cross that should have been stuffed and mounted long ago he went through drills that  look painful more smoothly than Hamilton.

I spoke with a couple players after practice, O’Gara who is headed off to Yale in the fall says his goal is to get bigger and stronger. Using the camp stats as reasonably accurate if he puts on 5-8lbs of mass and stays all four years he’ll wind up somewhere in between 205 and 217, I can’t imagine many forwards wanting to go into his corner. Had the most physical shift of the day smashing the larger and older Justin Courtnall repeatedly.

Local boy and USNDT Matt Grzelcyk will be staying local and playing for Boston University for the next few years. Bruins fans can look forward to the nearly inevitable BU/BC Beanpot games have at least once prospect on each team. The smooth skating defenseman was drafted in the 3rd round this year and is among the smaller players at camp. Watch him closely.

Jared Knight says the playoff experience in the OHL helped him develop, and that he’s focused on improving his game and going into camp focused.

The most entertaining and informative exchange of the day however was off to the side as Khoklachev and Subban worked on one end of the ice while the rest of the campers practiced rushes. Khoklachev is held out of contact for a few more weeks. Until the lacerated kidney is completely healed he can’t be a full participant in camp. Subban was in net. As Khoklachev swooped in from the blueline for shot after shot the two ratcheted up the skill level, the two found the competition increasingly humorous. At one point Khoklachev was lying on the ice laughing. The two exchanged mock exuberant celebrations after a save or score. Good to see players who might well play together for ten years making fun out of their very serious work.

Dev Camp ’12 Saturday June 30

Coach Cassidy spoke about the development of various players. Tommy Cross was praised for coachability while playing two games in Providence last year. Stressed that the camp was about developing individual players and familiarizing players with the Bruins expectations and way of doing things. Later he mentioned the Providence Bruins not only had 11 1st year pros, but fourteen concussions, the highest in the AHL last year. He’s expecting a better season this year.

Recently some interesting and oh-so-timely news came out of one of the Boston newsies regarding one of the Bruins goalies possibly being traded. While there was certainly a reason behind that article, I’m not sure it was a reasonable writeup.

If you look at the way goalies are developed and handled across the NHL, both now and over the last decade or so there is an absolutely explicit path to stability in the crease. One older veteran goaltender, one young goaltender. The Montreal Canadiens tried going with two youngsters in Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak and abandoned the model pretty quickly. The Washington Capitals spent a couple seasons with Varlemov, Neuvirth and Holtby, and quickly jettisoned a youngster for a veteran.

The Saint Louis Blues had great stability with the veteran Elliot and the young Halak this season. The Minnesota Wild, health aside, have enjoyed stability in the crease with their goaltending duo. Jimmy Howard in Detroit has been nurtured in his development by a series of elder statesman.  It’s pretty simple, two veterans can work, like in New Jersey, an older and younger goalie can work, but no one ever relies on two young goalies.

So when we look at the Boston Bruins goaltending assortment, we see a pretty clear mix in the system We have the elder statesman, who has been there and done that, and is still able to do so; Tim Thomas. We have a young, and goaltender who can play well in the regular season in a limited role but hasn’t ever played more than 60 games or performed well in the playoffs; Tuukka Rask. Then there’s Anton Khudobin, only a handful of NHL games to his name, just one professional playoff appearance to his name, and ten months older than the player immediately ahead of him on the depth chart.

After that things get murkier. Lars Volden and Zane Gothberg will both turn 20 this year, and both are college boys.  It is unlikely either will be playing anywhere professionally in the next year or two and three years is a more likely break in point. Michael Hutchinson made some impressive strides in limited duties for the Providence Bruins. Next up is Adam Couchraine who’s entry level contract expired on July 1 and has not managed to claim much playing time in the AHL or even the one NHL callup.

Adam Morrison and Niklas Svedberg have both been signed this season. Morrison bad his pro debut for the Providence Bruins this spring, and Svedberg has some Euro experience but neither is much closer to the NHL than Gothberg and Volden. A further spanner in the mix is Karel St. Laurent who played in 21 games for the Reading Royals and four for the Providence Bruins in his first year pro last season.

So, the question to ask yourself is:  If you’re an NHL club in win now mode, where do you put your trust? Do you break the trend that has been successful for teams and go with a 20-22 year old and one or two guys in their middle twenties who haven’t established themselves as winning playoff goaltenders? Another option would be bringing in one or more free agents. Of course any new player in the system, free agent or promotion especially in goal, the most important position in the sport, will have a shakedown period and the margin between a division win and deep playoff run, and having team breakup day in the middle of April isn’t as wide as it used to be.

Report out of Europe indicate another addition to the goalie stable. The Bruins who signed WHL standout Adam Morrison have added another talent to the equation. Now before we dive into who might or might not be traded Niklas Svedberg does have some pretty outstanding numbers in the playoffs, and more than respectable numbers in the regular season, but has never played a single game in North America. According to Elite Prospects he also appears to have another year on his contract.

Also of note is Svedberg’s reported stats. Listed at six-two and one-seventy-six he’s both taller and thinner than Krejci. With height and weight identical to the Buffalo Sabres Ryan Miller, it doesn’t mean he can’t succeed or even thrive in the NHL environment, simply that injuries are likely on a frame without much in the way of extra muscle or insulation.

Svedberg seen here in white, is an interesting addition for the Boston Bruins who have prospects, Michael Hutchinson, Lars Volden, Zane Gothberg (@ZanoInsano_29), RFA to be Adam Couchraine, the previously mentioned Morrison, in addition to starter Tim Thomas, backup Tuukka Rask, and Anton Khudobin. It’s hard to argue that Khudobin is not NHL ready after a second solid season’s numbers behind a poor team, or that Hutchinson is not progressing nicely when he finished tied for third in sv% in the AHL in his second professional season.

It is unquestionably for the best that depth is added, and that the depth be of high quality. After two (and counting?) Vezina seasons from Thomas, and a legendary Stanley Cup run that saw him become the first American goaltender to win the Conn-Smyth trophy, it’s unlikely any goaltender not playing at an elite level will survive the not so tender mercies of Bruins fans and media.

With speculation about Tim Thomas potentially being traded, and his age, added to the questions of Rask’s health and contract (RFA) we could see a seeming embarrassment of riches disappear in a single afternoon or two. One things for certain, if the Boston Bruins are going to have playoff success in the post-Thomas Era, they will need goaltending that doesn’t lose them games.

S/T to Boston Julie for the Svedberg 411

The Boston Bruins recalled Andrew Bodnarchuk. This is his second call up of the season, and he is up over Steve Kampfer for the second time in a row. Bodnarchuk has not yet played a game, but if Corvo is injured from the unsuspended Kyle Turris headshot or Boychuk is down from the hit by Neil, things could change.

This is Max Sauve’s (pronounced SOO-vay) first recall. The twenty two year old from Tours France has had an unfortunate string of injuries since he was drafted 47th in 2008. Other members of that draft class for the Bruins include Joe Colrborne who as traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs as part of the Kaberle trade, goalie Michael  Hutchinson who is having his best pro year in Providence, and Jamie Arniel who has taken a step back after finishing near the top of the scoring last year.

Sauve has an high end set of hands and has been putting up points of late after finally getting healthy. If he makes it into a game or two he certainly has the shot to break down some of that scoring gap the Bruins have lost with Peverley and Horton out of the lineup. Bodnarchuk is a restricted free agent in the last year of his contract. Sauve has one more full season left on his entry level deal.