Welcome to the 2017 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. During the summer, I will feature 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.
I will link 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 2017-18 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 a dark horse to make the NHL. 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old is the cut-off for prospects. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
TSP: Boston Bruins Prospects
The Boston Bruins seemed to be heading towards a third straight year of missing the playoffs when they fired head coach Claude Julien. The move was the turning point of the season. They improved greatly under new head coach Bruce Cassidy. The Bruins took third place in the Atlantic Division. Unfortunately, they lost in the first round to the Ottawa Senators.
Brad Marchand had a breakthrough season. He emerged as an NHL superstar, and was even in Hart Trophy consideration. Patrice Bergeron was his reliable self, winning another Selke Trophy. Meanwhile, David Pastrnak had 34 goals and 70 points in a breakout season. With a number of youngsters on the way, things are looking up in Boston.
Top Prospect: Charlie McAvoy
Defense — shoots Right
Born December 21st, 1997 — Long Beach, New York
Height 6’1″ — Weight 211 lbs [185 cm / 96 kg]
Drafted by the Boston Bruins in the 1st round, #14 overall at the 2016 NHL Draft
McAvoy had a dream season. He was a first team all-star in Hockey East, putting up five goals and 26 points in 38 games for Boston University. He was also one of the best defencemen at the World Juniors, scoring six points in seven games and helping Team USA to the gold medal. McAvoy signed with Boston after his college season ended and played big minutes in the playoffs. He scored three assists in six games and did not look out of place. To top it all off, he again played for Team USA, this time at the Men’s World Championship.
McAvoy is an excellent skater, with good speed and acceleration in both directions. He has very good agility, and edge work, which allows him to avoid fore checkers or to skate through traffic in the neutral zone to create offence. He also has good pivots allowing him to transition quickly from defence-to-offence and vice-versa. McAvoy’s strong skating allows him to cover a lot of ice. McAvoy has very good balance and is tough to knock off the puck. It also allows him to establish position in board battles and in clearing the front of the net.
McAvoy moves the puck with a strong first pass. He is a very good stick handler and can skate the puck out of the zone as well. McAvoy can lead the offense from the back end, either at the front of the rush or as a trailer. McAvoy’s speed allows him to take the puck deep on the rush, or to pinch in at the blue line and still get back defensively.
In the offensive zone, he shows poise at the blue line with the puck on his stick. McAvoy also has the vision and play making skill necessary to be a power play quarterback. His slap shot could use some work, as it lacks power. He has effective wrist and snap shots, as well as a good release on both.
McAvoy’s strong skating allows him to defend against the rush. He takes away the middle of the ice and forces forwards to the outside. McAvoy has shown the willingness to play physical. He needs to time his hits better though, as he has a tendency to get caught looking for a big hit instead of staying back and making the play. He could use some work reading the play and with his positioning but that will come with time.
The strong skating and stick handling also allow him to retrieve pucks quickly and avoid fore checkers. McAvoy quickly moves the puck up the ice in order to minimize defensive zone time. He starts the transition game very quickly as well.
Colin Miller and Joe Morrow have left Boston. The Bruins are very quiet this off-season. They have not made much effort to replace the two departed defencemen. This all lines up for McAvoy. He will be given every opportunity to make the Bruins in training camp next year. McAvoy will play a significant role on the defence. He could develop into a franchise defenceman.
#2 Prospect: Anders Bjork
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born August 5th 1996 — Mequon, Wisconsin
Height 5’11” — Weight 183 lbs [180 cm / 83 kg]
Drafted by the Boston Bruins in the 5th round, #146 overall at the 2014 NHL Draft
Bjork was one of the best players in all of college hockey last year, and helped lead the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to the Frozen Four. He scored 21 goals and 31 assists for 52 points in 39 games. He was a first team All-Star in Hockey East, a Second Team All-American, and a Hobey Baker Award nominee. Bjork also represented Team USA at the IIHF Men’s World Championship.
Bjork is a very good skater. He has an excellent first step and very good acceleration. This helps him to be first on loose pucks. He also has very good speed and can take an opponent wide and cut to the net. Bjork has very good agility and edge work. He can cut and change directions on a dime, making him tough to contain in one-on-one situations. He is also strong on his skates. His low centre of gravity gives Bjork good balance as well as the ability to fight through checks.
Bjork is a very intelligent player. He sees the ice extremely well, and anticipates what teammates and opponents will do. Bjork is an excellent play maker. He passes the puck through tight areas. Bjork is a hard-worker. He cycles the puck effectively, keeping it moving with quick passes to teammates. While he is slightly undersized, he battles hard in the corners and in front of the net.
When Bjork gets the opportunity, he takes the puck to the front of the net. He has the soft hands to finish in close. He also has a strong wrist shot and a good release. Bjork has a knack for finding open ice when he does not have the puck.
Bjork is a strong two-way player. He has good positioning, effectively cutting down passing and shooting lanes. He back checks hard, supporting the defence down low. Bjork killed penalties for the Irish. Once he creates a turnover, he quickly transitions to offence.
Bjork signed an entry-level-contract with the Bruins this summer. He will likely be in Providence to start the season. Bjork needs some AHL development time, but could find himself as an injury call-up this season, and a full-time NHLer in 2018-19 if his development goes well.
#3 Prospect: Jake DeBrusk
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born October 17th, 1996 — Edmonton, Alberta
Height 6’0″ — Weight 181 lbs [183 cm / 82 kg]
Drafted by the Boston Bruins in the 1st round, #14 overall at the 2015 NHL Draft
DeBrusk had a strong rookie season with the Providence Bruins. 19 goals and 49 points is excellent production for an AHL rookie. He also added six goals and nine points in 17 playoff games.
DeBrusk is strong on the puck, and has excellent balance on his skates. As a result he is able to work the cycle game effectively, protecting and controlling the puck down low, fighting through checks and winning battles along the boards. He is also very good at fighting for space and establishing position in front of the net. DeBrusk shows good acceleration, and the ability to make quick cuts that can help him to be elusive in the cycle. While he won’t be confused for a speedster, DeBrusk has decent top end speed. However it is his first step quickness and his good acceleration that are the real assets here as they help DeBrusk to win a lot of short races to loose pucks.
DeBrusk shows good hands in tight, to pounce on rebounds and get deflections as well as the willingness to get to those tough areas of the ice. DeBrusk has an excellent arsenal of shots with good releases on his wrist shot, snap shot, and backhand. He could use a bit more power on those shots though, and a little added muscle would help in this area.
DeBrusk is able to create for teammates through his work in the cycle game, and in puck protection. DeBrusk has decent passing skills and vision, and has the hockey IQ to make the right play. He gets in quickly on the fore check and loves to throw the body, pressuring defenders to move the puck quickly and creating turnovers. While he plays a physical game, he is not the fighter that his father was. He has had a few fights, but nowhere near what we would see out of Louie DeBrusk.
DeBrusk’s defensive game has really improved. He used to have a tendency to float and not get involved much in his own end of the ice, but has really improved his defensive work. DeBrusk gets involved physically on the back check, and on working to help out in his own zone. He is quick on the point man and willing to put his body out there to block shots. He can still have a tendency to puck watch at times, and some further work on maintaining his defensive intensity shift in and shift out is needed, but there have been improvements.
DeBrusk will likely head back to the AHL. Sometimes physical forwards take some time to round out their game, but DeBrusk is on the right track. He could be fighting for a middle six forward spot on the Bruins in 2018-19
#4 Prospect: Jakub Zboril
Defense — shoots Left
Born February 21st, 1997 — Brno, Czech Republic
Height 6’2″ — Weight 185 lbs [188 cm / 84 kg]
Drafted by the Boston Bruins in the 1st round, #13 overall at the 2015 NHL Draft
Zboril was overshadowed by Saint John Sea Dogs teammate Thomas Chabot last season, but is a legitimate prospect in his own right. He put up nine goals and 41 points in 50 games for the Sea Dogs, as well as seven points in 16 playoff games, in helping the team to the QMJHL Championship. Zboril also played for the Czech Republic in the World Juniors, putting up four assists in five games.
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. It has not had a huge effect on his top end speed which is good, but not great, in both directions.
Zboril is an excellent power play quarterback, with strong poise with the puck and good viion 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 and waits for a proper shooting lane to get his shot through to the net. 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 does have to time these hits better though, as he can have a tendency to get himself out of position to make such a hit. 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 as this has caused some inconsistency in his defensive game.
Zboril heads to the AHL this season. He is a year or two away from making an impact at the NHL level. He will need to round out his defensive game, and continue to get experience before being ready for the NHL.
#5 Prospect: Trent Frederic
Center — shoots Left
Born February 11th, 1998 — St. Louis, Missouri
Height 6’2″ — Weight 203 lbs [188 cm / 92 kg]
Drafted by the Boston Bruins in the 1st round, #29 overall at the 2016 NHL Draft
The Bruins shocked many when they drafted Trent Frederic late in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft. There were real questions about Frederic’s offensive upside. He started answering those questions with 15 goals and 33 points in 30 games with the University of Wisconsin last year.
Frederic is a good skater. He has the speed and acceleration necessary to be dangerous off the rush, or be the first one in on the fore check. He improved his edge work and agility, but can sometimes have issues navigating through traffic. Frederic shows good power in his stride. He fights through checks. He also has the balance to win battles on the boards as well as establish position in front of the net.
Frederic shows good size, and plays a power forward style of game. He loves to get in on the fore check, pressuring defencemen, and throwing hits in the offensive zone. Frederic creates turnovers, and generates offence by winning battles along the boards or working to establish space in front of the net. He protects the puck well down low, and is able to prolong possession and generate plays.
Frederic scores goals, with a strong wrist shot and good release. He is also able to score in close, taking the puck to the net when he gets the opportunity. He has fast hands that get rebounds and deflections. In terms of stick handling Frederic protects the puck well, but he is not one to make a lot of fancy one-on-one moves. His passing game also relies on making the simple play and does not typically look for the overly fancy or creative play. Frederic shows good hockey IQ, finding open space away from defenders, and making smart safe plays.
For a young player, Frederic is already developing a strong defensive game. He is tenacious on the back check and willing to use to use his size and grittiness in all three zones. Frederic is a smart player who contains well against the cycle game and provides good back pressure. He is good in the face-off circle, and does a good job cutting down passing and shooting lanes on the penalty kill.
Frederic heads back to the University of Wisconsin. The weekend heavy college schedule gives him time to continue to bulk up in the weight room. Frederic can also continue to develop his offensive game. He is a few years away from the NHL, but could be worth the wait.
#6 Prospect: Zachary Senyshyn
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born March 30th, 1997 — Ottawa, Ontario
Height 6’3″ — Weight 196 lbs [191 cm / 89 kg]
Drafted by the Boston Bruins in the 1st round, #15 overall at the 2015 NHL Draft
2016-17 was a bit of deja vu for Senyshyn. He scored over forty goals again, but still finished with just 65 points. He also struggled in the playoffs with just five points in 11 games for the Greyhounds. Senyshyn joined the Providence Bruins in the playoffs but did not pick up any points in four games.
Senyshyn is an absolutely elite skater, one of the best in the OHL. 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 inside.
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 edge work. 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.
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 snap shot are both extremely powerful and feature good releases. His stick handling is decent, but he’s more likely to beat a defender with his speed than with his hands. It is 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 play maker.
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 graduates to the AHL this year. He must show that his goal scoring prowess will translate at the pro level. He can also work to be a more well-rounded offensive threat. With the deep Boston system, he is likely a couple of years away from the NHL.
#7 Prospect: Urho Vaakanainen
The Bruins drafted Vaakanainen with the 18th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Vaakanainen. No games were played since that report; so we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
Sleeper Prospect: Danton Heinen
Center — shoots Left
Born July 5th 1995 — Langley, British Columbia
Height 6’1″ — Weight 185 lbs [185 cm / 84 kg]
Drafted by the Boston Bruins in the 4th round, #116 overall at the 2014 NHL Draft
After leaving the University of Denver in 2016, Heinen had a solid rookie season with the Providence Bruins. He put up 14 goals and 44 points in 64 games. He was even better in the playoffs with nine goals and 18 points in 17 games. Heinen earned eight games in Boston, but is still looking for his first NHL point.
Heinen is an average skater. His speed and acceleration are decent, and he can keep up with the play but are nothing to write home about. His edge work and agility are also passable. He has good lower body strength and a low centre of gravity which helps him in digging for loose pucks and getting to the front of the net. This is more effective in the offensive zone, than on the back check though.
Heinen is an excellent play maker. He has the vision to see openings on the ice, and the skill to feather the puck through tight areas. He slows the game down, protecting the puck with good stick handling and waiting for teammates to get open. Once they do, he can hit them with a tape-to-tape pass. Heinen has high end hockey sense and anticipates what his teammates and opponents are going to do. He can often seem a step ahead. His wrist shot has very good accuracy, but lacks power.
Heinen works hard on the back check, but his lack of size is a limiting factor. He has trouble containing big forwards on the cycle and in front of the net. He has good hockey sense and anticipation, which can lead to turnovers and quick transition.
Heinen will likely be back in Providence. He may end up a winger going forward, as his lack of size limits him at centre. Heinen needs to continue to bulk up, and round out his defensive game before he is ready for full-time NHL duty.
First round pick Urho Vaakanainen was added to the defensive depth chart that includes McAvoy, Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, and Ryan Lindgren. It is a very talented, and very deep group. Second round pick Jack Studnicka broke out in the second half of his draft year. He joins a forward depth chart that also includes Bjork, DeBrusk, Senyshyn, Frederic, Heinen, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Ryan Donato, Jesse Gabriel, Peter Cehlarik, and Ryan Fitzgerald. Between the pipes, the Bruins are still waiting for Malcolm Subban to take the next step. They also have Daniel Vladar and newly drafted Jeremy Swayman.
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