By Kirk Luedeke
If the past is any indication, then rising Cornell University junior Brian Ferlin is poised for a major breakout season with the Big Red and could raise his profile significantly within the Boston Bruins organization.
The Jacksonville, Fla., native was drafted by the B’s at the end of the fourth round in 2011 after being part of the USHL’s most lethal line on the Indianapolis Ice with Blake Coleman and Danill Tarasov. Since then, Ferlin earned top rookie honors in the ECAC and in two years, potted 18 goals and 45 points in 60 NCAA games, establishing himself as an intriguing power forward option for Boston down the road.
“I’m looking forward to the fresh start,” Ferlin told New England Hockey Journal from the Cornell campus, where he had just moved in this week for the start of the semester. “I’ve obviously been working hard in the off-season and training hard, but I’m excited to come in and show what I can do, take on more of a role on the team and have a more successful season than I did last year.”
At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, Ferlin effectively uses his big frame to shield the puck and maintain possession in the offensive zone. He can finish off scoring chances and is also an effective playmaking wing with the vision and soft hands to find teammates in prime position.
“First off, I do try to play an explosive game,” he said. “I’m a big kid, so I try to use my body to my advantage; protecting the puck is one of my bigger assets. I try to hold onto the puck to create space for myself and my linemates and gain enough separation and time to make plays. I’m working on my shot, my hands- playing that power forward role that allows me to tale pucks to the net hard.”
Although still considered raw and still developing, Ferlin’s non-traditional hockey background has not proven to be much of a hindrance, as he adjusted to the pace and physical demands of the ECAC right away. Thanks to the efforts of head coach Mike Schafer and the Big Red staff, Ferlin believes that his overall game has progressed significantly since he arrived in Ithaca two years ago.
“It’s a different world in terms of how you prepare,” he said of D1 hockey in the NCAA compared to what he grew up with in Florida. “As you go up in the levels, you have better coaches, better systems. There’s a lot more you have to do in terms of stretching, conditioning, nutrition and just taking care of yourself year round.
“Hockey sense and awareness is something I’ve definitely gained more of by working with top coaches like Coach Schafer and what he’s taught me about breaking down video and becoming a better player defensively. I think that when I was in the USHL, I was running around a lot and didn’t really know where I needed to be on the ice. Entering my third year here, I have a much better understanding of the game and the different aspects that you have to bring on every shift.”
The 21-year-old’s progress has steadily been trending upward despite a tough start a year ago that saw him struggle to find the back of the net at the beginning of the year. By mid-season, Ferlin picked up the offensive production and managed to finish the year with a slight increase in his numbers overall. Now, looking ahead to 2013-14, Ferlin knows that it will be important to be even more consistent up front for Cornell, especially with the graduation of leading scorer Greg Miller.
“Ferlin has the talent to be more of a factor offensively than he has been,” said an NHL scout recently. “His skating looks a little funky, but he actually moves well and catches defenders flat-footed in open ice with that deceptive speed of his. I like the way he keeps things simple in the offensive zone and doesn’t try to get too cute with the puck. He uses that big body of his pretty effectively, and if he can get it going from to start to finish, you could see him emerge as one of the top college forwards in the country this year.”
Back in July, Ferlin participated in his third prospects development camp in Wilmington, Mass., since the Bruins drafted him, and like several other veteran prospects there, said it was the closest-knit bunch he’d been around.
“I felt that this was the tightest group of guys from my experience,” said Ferlin. “As someone a little older who had been through it and kind of knew what to expect, it definitely made things more comforting going into it. We had a smaller group of players at camp this time, but we did more together off the ice and I think we all had a good time just getting to know each other and learning more about the Bruins organization and how they do things.”
This is not only indicative of the quality depth the B’s have quietly put together over the past several years, but that the team’s management, led by GM Peter Chiarelli and his two assistants – Jim Benning and Don Sweeney – have been successful in identifying those players with the important off-ice traits the organization values.
One player Ferlin spent time with at camp, but who is an intra-conference rival with national champion Yale, is defenseman Rob O’Gara. Having watched his fellow 2011 Boston draftee go all the way to the NCAA’s summit of excellence as a freshman is something that has certainly helped to drive Ferlin this summer and solidify the clear team goal of the Frozen Four and ultimate victory in 2014.
“I was obviously happy for him,” Ferlin said. “But at the same time, it motivates you to watch a team you’re a rival with win a championship while you’re sitting at home. I feel like that’s something we are capable of doing, and while it’s great to see someone from our conference win a title, we want it to be us. So, it was a great experience to see him go through that and talk a little about it at camp, but it makes you hungry to get started for the new season.”
A downside to having strong organizational depth on a Stanley Cup contending team is the lack of jobs available, but Ferlin knows that he is still very much a work in progress. With at least one, possible two more years left at Cornell, followed by what will likely be a stint in the AHL with Providence, he’s just focusing on refining his game and doing the little things that will help him to make a positive impression on Claude Julien and the rest of the Boston coaching staff when his time to compete for one of the eight wing positions arrives.
“He’s probably not the most dynamic forward out there,” the scout said of Ferlin. “But he does bring certain physical elements that some of the smaller skill guys simply can’t. He’s got the size, reach, and strength to fight through checks and establish a net-front presence, and while it may take some time for him to learn the game’s finer points because of where he came from, there might be a nice payoff there eventually. I think he’s pretty underrated at this stage of his development. He’s probably someone you’re going to hear about a lot in that conference this year.”
As long as it means more wins and a shot at a national title, Brian Ferlin is more than fine with that projection.