<span class="vcard">Jason Brough</span>

150627_ClaudeJulien

Julien ‘pretty impressed’ with Sweeney’s moves

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Claude Julien has a weaker roster today than he did entering the draft. Gone in separate trades are Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton, in return for prospects.

But the Bruins’ head coach struck a supportive tone late Friday when asked about his rookie general manager, Don Sweeney.

“First of all, I think you’ve got to give Don a lot of credit,” Julien said, per the Bruins’ website. “He’s come into this in this role and there was a lot on his plate, and a lot going on, and there were some tough decisions to be made, and personally, I’m pretty impressed with how he’s handled it.

“And that’s not to say that I’m happy that Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic are gone – we just lost two pretty good players, but those are moves that probably had to be made, obviously with the situation we’re in with the cap and everything else and the future.”

The decision to trade Hamilton was the most surprising. Sweeney offered a cryptic response when asked yesterday for an explanation.

“I think everyone considers Dougie as a foundational-type player,” said Sweeney, “and it was indicated to us that that might not be the case going forward in Boston.”

Regardless of why Hamilton left, the Bruins’ defense, a group that struggled last season to make up for the loss of Johnny Boychuk, will now have to try and make up for another big loss.

Sweeney called it “a great opportunity” for some of the “kids” on Boston’s defense — a sentiment with which his coach agreed.

“I can’t go into the year saying it’s going to be tough, I need to be optimistic, I need to believe,” said Julien. “We have guys who can skate, the Joe Morrows are down there, the [Zach] Trotmans, and there’s some more time here to maybe add if we need to.”

With belief in building ‘from the back end out,’ Flyers take d-man Provorov

2015 NHL Draft - Round One
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SUNRISE —  Even with an “obvious” need at forward, the Philadelphia Flyers couldn’t pass up the opportunity to select Ivan Provorov with the seventh overall pick at today’s draft.

Provorov, an 18-year-old who was born in Russia but starred last season for the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings, is considered by many to be the best defenseman in the draft.

Yes, even better than Noah Hanifin, the Boston College blue-liner that Carolina took fifth overall.

Provorov had 61 points in 60 games for Brandon. He’s been lauded for his ability to create offense in the attacking zone and beat the forecheck in the defensive zone. Oh, and he’s pretty good at stopping opposing players, too.

“We believe that you build from the back end out, and Ivan is going to be a big part of our defense moving forward,” GM Ron Hextall said. “We’re really excited to have him. Really good all around player, great hockey sense.”

The Flyers’ defense, a weakness since Chris Pronger was forced to stop playing, is going to be very different in the near future. Before today, they already had well-regarded prospects Samuel Morin, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Travis Sanheim. Radko Gudas and Michael Del Zotto, both 25, could also be part of the future group. Plus, they signed Russian Yevgeny Medvedev, and who knows how that works out?

For Hextall, the challenge before next season may be to shed one, two or even more of Mark Streit, Andrew MacDonald, Luke Schenn, Nicklas Grossmann, or Nick Schultz.

Related: Flyers won’t trade Del Zotto, but ‘something will have to give’ on crowded blue line

Panthers select big Lawson Crouse, despite modest point totals

2015 NHL Draft - Round One
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SUNRISE — Buoyed by the ovation from the BB&T Center crowd, Lawson Crouse strode confidently up to the stage after the hometown Florida Panthers had drafted him with the 11th overall pick.

But he might’ve expected to hear his name called sooner.

Crouse went into the draft ranked No. 5 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. However, the big winger had to sit and watch as a handful of players who’d been ranked below him got taken before him.

Perhaps it was his modest point totals with the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs — just 51 of them in 56 games in 2014-15 — that convinced other teams to pass.

“I don’t think my points were horrible, but I know they can improve, and I know there is a long ways to go,” Crouse conceded Thursday.

“I do a lot of other things well. That’s the part of my game that stands out for me.”

To be fair, the Frontenacs were a mediocre team that didn’t score many goals. Crouse actually led them in scoring.

In Florida, he’ll join an up-and-coming group that came into today’s draft hoping to “add one more final piece to the core that will be our core for hopefully close to the next 10 years.”

Related: Get to know a draft pick — Lawson Crouse

Leafs select Mitch Marner, who’s modeled his game after Patrick Kane

Saginaw Spirit v London Knights
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SUNRISE — The Toronto Maple Leafs, not long ago run by a general manager who promised to build a team with “proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence,” have used the fourth overall pick to select one of the smallest players in the draft.

Fortunately for the Leafs, Mitch Marner makes up for his lack of size (he’s listed at 5-foot-11, 160 pounds) with a huge amount of talent. The 18-year-old forward had 44 goals and 82 assists this season for the London Knights. His 126 points were second to only Dylan Strome (who went third overall to Arizona) in the OHL.

Marner also enters a Leafs organization that’s more than familiar with his game.

From the Globe and Mail:

… the main voice in the Marner camp is Toronto’s director of player personnel, Mark Hunter. The former Knights general manager knows Marner intimately – he picked the forward 19th overall in the 2013 OHL draft and persuaded him to forgo a scholarship offer from the University of Michigan.

At that point Marner was 15 years old, 5 foot 7 and 130 pounds, and his size was the biggest reason he slipped to London at 19. Over the next two years, he grew four inches, added 30 pounds and rang up a terrific 126-point season to finish second in OHL scoring as a 17-year-old.

Hunter’s belief in him paid off. He thinks it will again for the Leafs and he has support from colleagues such as Lindsay Hofford, one of the Leafs’ newest scouts, who was the Knights’ director of scouting when they drafted Marner.

Not surprisingly, Marner has called Blackhawks star Patrick Kane “the guy I’ve always looked up to,” and he believes the NHL has changed enough to allow smaller players to thrive.

“It’s not about height,” he said. “It’s not about cross-checking as hard as you can. It’s not about hooking. All those get you a penalty nowadays. It’s a speed game now. It’s about thinking. If you have the brain to play in the NHL, no matter how tall you are, you can play. If you can dodge hits, you can play.”

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Related: Get to know a draft pick — Mitch Marner

Sabres cash in their suffering, take Eichel second overall

Jack Eichel
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SUNRISE — One of the worst seasons in NHL history paid off today for the Buffalo Sabres.

With the second overall pick in the 2015 draft, the Sabres selected forward Jack Eichel, the Boston University phenom that NHL Central Scouting ranked No. 2 among North American skaters. He was ranked behind only Connor McDavid, who went to the Oilers first overall.

Eichel enters the NHL with great expectations. He’s been called a franchise player, even garnering the “generational” label, along with McDavid.

The Sabres finished the 2014-15 season with a 23-51-8 record. Their 54 points were the fewest in the league, two fewer than Arizona managed. They had the worst offense, the worst power play, the worst penalty kill, and the second-worst goals-against average. They were accused of tanking. Often.

Now it’s time to start the ascension. With Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly, Zach Bogosian, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Robin Lehner, Sabres fans may not have to suffer much longer.

Related: Get to know a draft pick — Jack Eichel