Training camps can be crossroads, especially for veteran players mulling retirement and prospects who are getting antsy about “making the leap.”
Alex Khokhlachev is in that latter group with the Boston Bruins. You get the impression that he’s going to make noise if it doesn’t work out soon – maybe even next season – based on these quotes from CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty.
“I’ve been waiting two years so [the Bruins] should make a decision: give me a chance [in the NHL] or…I don’t know. We’ll see what they do. I’m not a young guy anymore. I’m 22 already,” Khokhlachev said. “If they don’t give me a chance to play while I’m here…I won’t play in Providence all of my life. I’m still waiting for [my chance].”
(That groan you heard came from readers old enough to cringe at the line “I’m 22 already.”)
It’s been a strange ride for the prospect sometimes conveniently called “Koko.” Back around the 2013 trade deadline, it seemed like Khokhlachev was going to be involved in the Bruins’ eventually aborted Jarome Iginla swap.
The 22-year-old appeared in three games with the Bruins last season (and one in 2013-14), but he didn’t really believe that he received a fair look in that regard.
Khokhlachev also seemed a bit envious of other young players who’ve received the call, noting that they “stepped up.”
Haggerty wonders if he might already be angling for a change:
From the sounds of it, Khokhachev is pining for a fresh start in a different organization and a chance where there are NHL spots readily available. But he won’t have any leverage at all as a player until he finishes out his entry-level contract with Boston, short of picking up and heading back to the KHL and Mother Russia.
Joe Morrow is optimistic that the Bruins’ new defensive system — one that’s predicated on skating and puck-moving — will fit his game and help the team.
“Absolutely, with my skating ability and the things I can do on the ice, I think it will be more effective come game time,” Morrow said, per NESN.
“It’s just more of an offensive-minded approach. Push the pace of play and show more of a skill level this year rather than the gritty performance and gritty defensive aspect of things. It’s still going to be there 100 percent, that part is not going to change at all, but you will see a lot more of the skilled forwards and skilled defensemen contribute to the offense a lot more.”
Yet another reason, beyond the departure of Dougie Hamilton, that the Bruins’ blue line will be very much under the microscope this season.
Morrow, 22, was a first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2011. Since then, he’s been traded twice while appearing in just 15 NHL games.
Despite still being on a two-way contract, Morrow is no longer exempt from waivers, according to war-on-ice.com.
Related: Zach Trotman is looking to make the leap
Interesting tidbit here from CSNNE’s Joe Haggerty:
Perhaps a PTO with the Bruins is still in the cards after Stempniak spent so much time skating with the B’s players over the last few weeks. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a respected, steady pro that proved last season he’s still capable of potting 15 goals, or that he was summer workout partners at Boyle’s Gym with Bruins Director of Player Development Jay Pandolfo while both were still NHL players.
Another positive sign: Stempniak’s Rangers hockey bag was tossed in the back of the Bruins equipment van with other Bruins players destined for the start of training camp at TD Garden after captain’s practice on Tuesday.
These aren’t Stempniak’s lone ties to Boston. John Ferguson, the Bruins’ director of player personnel, was the assistant GM in St. Louis when the Blues took Stempniak at the 2003 draft.
“I think it would be a good fit. It’s a great organization,” Stempniak said earlier this week, per WEEI. “I’ve heard great things. I’ve gotten to know some of the guys. I like them and have a lot of respect for some of their players, just the way they train, the way they play and as people. It’s definitely appealing,
It would make sense for Boston to kick the tires on the 32-year-old. The team could use some offensive punch after finishing 22nd in the NHL in goals per game last year, and Stempniak could possibly be had on the cheap, coming off a one-year, $900,000 deal.
The makeup of the Boston Bruins’ franchise continues to transform this summer, whether it be those wearing skates or suits.
The team announced an array of front office tweaks on Saturday, most notably the promotion of Jay Pandolfo and the hiring of Jamie Langenbrunner.
Pandolfo gets a promotion from hockey operations assistant to director of player development, which boils down to developing players and prospects. The Bruins likely hope that younger players can learn from a scrappy forward who managed to grind 899 NHL games out of his limited set of skills.
Sadly, Langenbrunner won’t be called the minister of excessively long last names. Instead, Langenbrunner will be a development coach.
Beyond adding two seasoned veterans fresh off of lengthy careers, the Bruins continue a sub-trend of former New Jersey Devils taking front office jobs with other teams (see: Martin Brodeur in St. Louis).
You can read the full array of changes in this article from the Bruins.
Many hockey fans grumbled when they learned that the Buffalo Sabres didn’t just sign Cody Franson; they also landed him at a significant discount.
Just about any squad with a deficit on defense had to at least consider Franson, who generates the sort of points that attract the attention of traditional types while also pleasing stat-heads with his possession stats.
The Boston Bruins are making the types of changes that would seemingly play into Franson’s strengths, so their fans might feel a little disappointed.
Ultimately, Bruins GM Don Sweeney explained that he’d rather see the team’s young defensemen battle for spots, as CSNNE.com reports.
“I think this is presenting an opportunity where you go and establish yourself,” Sweeney said. “There’s definitely a little bit of a tug of war going on internally as to whether or not you go out and get a guy that you know can provide what [Franson] can versus a little of the unknown as to what these [younger] players can grow into.”
Interestingly, Sweeney also said that “if they fall short … we have to make an adjustment accordingly.” That implies that Boston would react by either making a trade or late signing.
CSNNE.com points to increased roles for Torey Krug and Adam McQuaid and opportunities for the likes of Zach Trotman to earn a roster spot.
That’s well and good, yet you have to wonder if Boston is making a mistake; Sweeney could be going from a position of strength (Franson’s surprising lack of options this off-season) to playing catch-up (as teams would be well aware of the Bruins’ plight).
It’s not as if Franson is ancient, either, as he’s merely 28.
One way or another, this has been a fascinating first off-season for Sweeney, and time will tell if his polarizing moves will work out. At least he’s providing some insight on his decision-making, right?