Welcome to the 2016 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2016 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will follow the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no trades). You can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted this year. There have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed.
What I will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2016-17 roster. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later; or an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. The cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
TSP: Boston Bruins Prospects
For the second straight year the Boston Bruins were in the playoff chase right up to the end of the season; and for the second straight year they came up short. The Bruins team that won the Stanley Cup in 2011, went to the finals in 2013, and finished in first place in 2014 has aged rapidly. Off-season changes were meant to spark the team. The additions of David Backes, John-Michael Liles, and Anton Khudobin in free agency should help. However, the Bruins must get a contribution from their young prospects if they are going to reverse the trend, and get back into the playoffs next season.
Boston Bruins Prospects Scouting Reports
Top Prospect: Frank Vatrano
Center/Left Wing — shoots Left
Born Mar 14 1994 — East Longmeadow, MA
Height 5’10 — Weight 216 lbs [178 cm / 98 kg]
Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2015
An undrafted free agent, Vatrano had a remarkable year. It immediately vaults him from virtual unknown one year ago, to the top of the Bruins prospect chart today. He scored 36 goals in just 36 AHL games, and added 19 assists for 55 points. His performances earned him a few NHL call-ups. He scored eight goals and 11 points in 39 NHL games. Vatrano was also part of Team USA at the World Championships scoring three goals and eight points in 10 games.
Vatrano is a very good skater. He has very good top end speed and acceleration. He also has the agility, and the edge work to make a variety of moves to get past and shake off defencemen. Short but stocky, Vatrano has a low centre of gravity. This gives him excellent balance, as well as the power to fight through checks and get to good scoring areas.
Vatrano is a pure shooter. He will shoot the puck from anywhere. He also has a vast array of shots, all of which feature a hair trigger release that fools goaltenders. Vatrano has an outstanding wrist shot, with great power and accuracy. He also has a lightning quick snap shot, and a hard one-timer. Vatrano has the hockey IQ to find soft spots in the opposition defence and get off his shot.
Vatrano is very good in the cycle game. His low centre of gravity and excellent balance allow Vatrano to control the puck and protect it. He makes smart, simple passes with the puck, finding the open teammate who can keep the play going. He also does a good job of digging pucks out along the boards and getting it to an open teammate. Vatrano may not get a lot of assists. He doesn’t make creative tape-to-tape passes through small openings. However, he keeps the play moving in the cycle until a shot is created.
Vatrano has some work to do in the defensive end of the ice. He brings his grit and tenacity to his own end, but must learn to play a little smarter. He needs to maintain his position and stay in shooting and passing lanes instead of chasing the puck carrier too much. The good thing is that Vatrano is committed to back checking and plays an intense game in his own end. He has the willingness to succeed and now just needs coaching and attention to detail to get it right.
Expect Vatrano to push hard for a spot in training camp. With the remarkable season he had last year, as well as the fact he’s showed a little bit of offense at the NHL level, it will be hard for the Bruins to send him back tothe Providence Bruins again.
#2 Prospect: Charlie McAvoy
The Bruins drafted McAvoy with the 14th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on McAvoy. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#3 Prospect: Colin Miller
Defense — shoots Right
Born Oct 29 1992 — Sault Ste. Marie, ONT
Height 6’1 — Weight 196 lbs [185 cm / 89 kg]
Drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in round 5, #151 overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
Acquired via trade to Boston in June 2015.
Acquired from the Los Angeles Kings in the Milan Lucic trade, Colin Miller got his first taste of NHL action last season. He performed well with three goals and 16 points in 42 games. He also put up some nice advanced statistics (52.1% CF), showing that the Bruins increased their puck possession and scoring opportunities when Miller was on the ice.
Miller is another excellent skater. He has very good speed in both directions, as well as excellent acceleration. Miller has very good agility, pivots and edge work. This skating skill allows him to cover a lot of ice, and play the style of game that contributes at both ends of the rink. He can join the rush, or pinch at the blue line and recover back to his own end. Miller is also strong on his skates. He has excellent balance and the ability to fight through checks.
Miller has the stick handling ability to avoid the fore check and start the puck up the ice. He also has the passing skills to start the transition game that way, or to make good passes at the point in the offensive zone. Miller uses his agility to walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes. He has the poise with the puck to take advantage of these opportunities once they present themselves. Miller also has a very good slap shot, and a hard and accurate one-timer. He gets his shot off, and gets it on net. Miller understands to keep his shot low and that will generate more tip-ins and rebounds for teammates.
Miller still needs to work on his defensive game. He can be prone to coughing up the puck at bad times, either through being a bit too risky with a pass, or making one too many moves to exit the zone. He also needs to work on his positioning and coverage skills. Miller has all the tools to be successful in his own end. He must show he can put together the toolbox. He is already a decent NHL defender, but this will make the difference between him being merely decent, and a very good defenceman going forward.
Miller has play has earned him a place on the Bruins blue line. While there is a lot of competition for spots; he has proven to be capable and effective at the NHL level. Barring a very unexpected training camp, Miller should be a full-time NHL player this season.
#4 Prospect: Jakub Zboril
Defense — shoots Left
Born Feb 21 1997 — Brno, Czech Rep.
Height 6’1 — Weight 184 lbs [185 cm / 83 kg]
Drafted by the Boston Bruins in round 1, #13 overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft
It was a rough season for Jakub Zboril. He showed up to Bruins rookie camp, out of shape, and failed his fitness testing. He eventually got on the ice, but was soon sent back to the Saint John Sea Dogs where he say his point totals plummet. Zboril did get things back together in time for the QMJHL playoffs putting up 10 points in 17 games. Many expected more out of the Czech native.
Zboril has good skating skill and his excellent pivots, edge work, and agility allow him to cover a ton of ice. He has good balance and is hard to knock off the puck. That balance and power is also very useful in clearing the front of the Sea Dogs net, or in battling for loose pucks in the corners and along the boards. Zboril’s skating stride is a little bit choppy and his acceleration could improve by working to make it smoother, however it has not had a huge effect on his top end speed which is good in both directions.
Jakub Zboril is an strong power play quarterback, with strong poise with the puck and good vision and passing skill. He also has a rocket of a slap shot, as well as an excellent wrist shot and good release. Zboril is patient. He waits for a proper shooting lane to get his shot through. He is able to use his agility, and edge work to walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes to the net. In addition, Zboril has good instincts for pinching in at the blue line, or for joining the rush. He has the puck handling skills to skate the puck out of danger in his own end, and can make a smart first pass to start the transition game.
Opposing forwards must keep their head up when making a rush down Zboril’s end of the ice. If they have their heads down, he is more than willing to throw a big hit. He must time these hits better though. He gets himself out of position to make such a hit, from time to time. Zboril is also not afraid to be physical in the defensive end of the ice, battling hard in front of the net and in the corners. He is not afraid to block shots. He could use some work on his positioning and reading of the play. This caused some inconsistency in his defensive game this year, but has improved over the course of the season.
Zboril will likely be sent back to Saint John this year. He will get an opportunity to improve on his performance. Saint John should be amongst the best in the QMJHL, and Zboril will get the chance to help them win a championship before he is ready to turn pro next summer.
#5 Prospect: Zachary Senyshyn
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born Mar 30 1997 — Ottawa, ONT
Height 6’2 — Weight 195 lbs [188 cm / 88 kg]
Drafted by the Boston Bruins in round 1, #15 overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft
A controversial first round draft pick by the Bruins one year ago, Senyshyn silenced some of his critics by scoring 45 goals this past season. However, with just 20 assists and he finished with 65 points in 66 games. The sub point-per-game pace still has others questioning the ultimate offensive upside of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds product.
Zachary Senyshyn is an absolutely elite skater, one of the best in the OHL. He told Yahoo sportsthat he has been working with Ottawa Senators skating coach Mark Power since he was 13 years old, and it definitely shows in his game. The Ottawa native has a powerful stride that generates great speed, and the acceleration to reach that top speed in just a few steps. He also has the strength and balance to fight through a check and drive to the front of the net. This allows Senyshyn to take defenders wide off the rush, and cut to the front of the net.
He is deadly when he catches a defender flat footed in the neutral zone and will be behind them before they know it. The balance also allows Senyshyn to win battles along the boards and to establish position in front of the net. The only downside in Senyshyn’s skating is his agility and edgework. He could work on maintaining his speed while making sharp cuts, and changes in direction to be even more dangerous. This area of his game is not that bad, it just doesn’t live up to the speed and power that he shows and is an area to improve so he can reach the next level.
Senyshyn plays a very straight forward power game. He goes to the net hard both with and without the puck. He plays gritty and digs in the corners and in the front of the net. Senyshyn has a lethal arsenal of shots. His wrist shot and snapshot are both extremely powerful and feature good releases. His stickhandling is decent, but he’s more likely to beat a defender with his speed than with his hands. Its an area of his game that certainly can get better. Senyshyn makes smart, simple passes of the puck in the cycle game, keeping possession, but is not one to make a creative pass through a small opening. He’s much more of a goal scorer than a playmaker.
Defensively Senyshyn works extremely hard. He back checks effectively and gets involved in battles in his own end. He is willing to play a physical style, separating his man from the puck. Senyshyn is not afraid to put his body down and attempt to block shots. While he’s willing to work, there are some areas of his defensive game that need improvement. He can sometimes get himself out of position chasing the puck. Even when chasing is not the issue, his overall positioning in his own end does need some work.
Senyshyn will likely spend another season in the OHL. The Bruins hope to see him take his game to the next level, and round out his offensive game. He could be a bit of a longer term project, and will likely need AHL time the following year.
#6 Prospect: Jacob Forsbacka-Karlsson
Center — shoots Right
Born Oct 31 1996 — Stockholm, Sweden
Height 6’1 — Weight 190 lbs [185 cm / 86 kg]
Drafted by Boston Bruins in round 2, #45 overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft
Forsbacka-Karlsson finished a strong freshman campaign for Boston University with 10 goals and 30 points in 39 games. He also played for Sweden at the World Junior Championships finishing with one goal and five points in seven games.
Forsbacka-Karlsson has good, but not great speed and acceleration. However the other parts of his skating are at a high level. He has excellent lower body strength and balance. It is hard to knock Forsbacka-Karlsson off the puck, and he uses his size to protect it effectively in the cycle. He also has very good agility and edge work.
Forsbacka-Karlsson is much more of a play maker than a goal scorer. He makes good passes to his wingers off the rush, and can use strong vision and passing skills in the cycle game. He has good stick handling, and uses his size to protect the puck down low, working well in that cycle and maintaining possession for his team. Forsbacka-Karlsson has an accurate shot and a decent release, but he could add some upper-body strength and add power to it. He is gritty in the corners, and often comes out with the puck. Forsbacka-Karlsson is very effective on the forecheck, forcing defenders to rush plays and make mistakes.
He may need to add some upper-body strength to continue to play this type of game at the pro-level. With the weekend focused schedule of the NCAA game, he certainly should get the time to be able to add that muscle in the gym. He could also use some work on finding openings and being in good position to take a pass and get a scoring chance when he doesn’t have the puck.
Forsbacka-Karlsson is a strong two-way player. He is very good in the face-off circle, winning draws in both the offensive and defensive zone. The fact that he is a right-handed centre even increases the value of these face-off skills. He is also strong positionally, and works well to help his defenders, and contain opposing forwards down low on the cycle game. Forsbacka-Karlsson is not afraid to block shots. He brings his gritty game and ability to battle hard on the boards to all three zones. A top penalty killer for the Lancers in the USHL, he is starting to take on more responsibilities at the college level. He shows very good anticipation and the ability to cut down passing lanes with his long and active stick.
Forsbacka-Karlsson will be back at Boston University this season. He is expected to take on an even bigger role on the team. It will be interesting to see if he can take his offensive game to the next level.
Sleeper: Austin Czarnik
Centre — shoots Right
Born Dec 12 1992 — Washington, MI
Height 5’9 — Weight 160 lbs [175 cm / 73 kg]
Czarnik had a great first season in the AHL. He showed the ability to produce, playing first line minutes and thriving in the role. Of course, questions about his size continue to linger, but the fact remains that no matter what level of hockey he has played, he has always produced points.
Czarnik is a very good skater. He overcomes his lack of size, with very good speed and acceleration. His ability to change speeds allows him to fool defenders. He is also very agile, with excellent edge work, and the ability to change directions on a dime. This helps Czarnik to be very elusive, not just on the rush, but also in the offensive zone. He has good core strength which helps his balance and makes him harder to knock off the puck than you would expect.
There is little doubt that Czarnik has offensive skills to succeed, the only question remains his size. His best asset is his outstanding play making ability and vision. Czarnik is a top notch play maker who can make his line-mates look better. He uses his skating ability to open up lanes and find team mates. Czarnik controls the pace of the game, he can speed up or slow down the play when necessary. He also has a decent wrist shot, that is very accurate, but he just does not use it often enough.
Czarnik’s size produces its biggest obstacles in the defensive zone. He has difficulty containing opponents in the cycle game and has a tendency to get pushed around and pushed off the puck. He can sometimes be overpowered. While Czarnik continues to work hard and plays smart positionally, his lack of size is still a liability.
Cracking this Bruins roster down the middle is tough. With the addition of Backes on July 1st, it has gotten even tougher. As a result, Czarnik is likely headed to the AHL, with the occasional call-up in case of injury.
As the Bruins have traded away a number of established stars in recent years, they have also had a plethora of draft picks. This has led to a system that is extremely well stocked. In goal, it is time for Malcolm Subban to take the next step. He played very well before suffering his crushed larynx issue. Given his age and his pedigree, soemoene will take a chance on him. Daniel Vladaar will soon be pushing for his spot.
The Bruins blueline features an interesting mix. McAvoy is an excellent prospect, and Zboril should be able to turn things around. Behind them is Matt Grzelcyk, Brandon Carlo, Jeremy Lauzon and Ryan Lindgren. Up front the Bruins also have Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Trent Frederic, Ryan Donato, Seth Griffith, Ryan Fitzgerald and others. The question mark here is a lack of a top end talent. There is plenty of depth, but who can make the Boston look more applying.