March 19, 2013

Ask Kirk: Soderberg, Svedberg and other Bruins' futures

By Kirk Luedeke

We’re back with a second edition of the Twitter and Email Q & A focused on the Boston and Providence Bruins, the B’s amateur prospects, NCAA hockey, the 2013 NHL draft and pretty much anything hockey-related for New England.

We’ll start by congratulating Malden Catholic for their three-peat as 2013 Massachusetts Super 8 Champs. The Lancers defeated Austin Prep on St. Patrick’s Day in a closely-contested 3-2 match. Once again, the Lancers showed themselves to be the class of the Catholic Conference. Gone are Brendan Collier (Charlestown, Mass.) and Ryan Fitzgerald (North Reading, Mass.), but between Ara Nazarian (Boxford, Mass.) and Casey Fitzgerald (North Reading, Mass.), MC boasts a pair of promising NHL draft prospects for 2014 and 2015. Belated regards are also in order for the NEPSIHA champs, the Crimson Knights of Salisbury School, who won their third prep title earlier this month with a deep and balanced roster.

To ask our resident hockey analyst Kirk Luedeke a question for the next mailbag, just shoot him a tweet at @kluedeke29 or send an email to kluedeke@hockeyjournal.com

(Boston) prospects....who goes out the door to add firepower (or blue line help?) for playoff run? – @a_Troia

Appreciate the question. Let’s get this Twitter/e-mail bag rolling!

I do believe you are on the right track in thinking that any potential trades will feature prospects as part of the package. However, the Bruins and GM Peter Chiarelli will have to balance the desire to keep the roster intact with the team’s projected salary cap for next season. By my calculations, they’re already north of $50 million in committed cap dollars for 2013-14, and Tuukka Rask is due a raise on his current $3.5M hit. That doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for additional higher-cost veterans (Nathan Horton is a pending UFA), so the team can’t afford to give up too many of its prized futures if they want to maintain some offsets moving forward.

As discussed in the last mailbag, players like Ryan Spooner (pictured right) and Alexander Khokhlachev will be on the tip of other GMs’ tongues when entering possible trade discussions with Boston. Chiarelli will be hard-pressed to part with either player in a trade for anything less than a front-line veteran, but there are other options out there for Bruins targets in the middle tier. It will all boil down to what kind of trade(s) the Bruins are looking to make. If they decide to go all-in for a big name, then it’s hard to envision a scenario where at least one of the higher-end prospects isn’t headed the other way. If not, you could see some secondary guys along the lines of a Max Sauve (who is a legit top-six NHL talent but durability issues lower his trade value), or promising Cornell power forward Brian Ferlin, and possibly a defenseman like David Warsofsky or Zach Trotman on the move.

You have to give to get. The Bruins won’t be keen on giving up their top prospects for veterans, especially if target players are “rentals” approaching unrestricted free agency. This is why I would be surprised if the B’s land a “big fish” like Jarome Iginla —they’ll require higher-end prospects in return, which could hamstring the team later on when they need to plug in lower-cost youngsters to fit under the cap.

Thoughts on new Bruin Alexander Fallstrom? – @gmhowe87

The 22-year-old Swede was acquired way back in October, 2009 from the Minnesota Wild as part of a package for current Colorado forward Chuck Kobasew. The rest of the package: minor leaguer Craig Weller, and most notably- the second-rounder that turned into Alexander “Koko” Khokhlachev.

The Wild, interestingly enough, had just drafted Fallstrom in the 2009 lottery’s fourth round, with the pick that the Bruins had originally sent to Minneapolis (with Petr Kalus) for the underwhelming Manny Fernandez. A standout scorer at the famous Shattuck St. Mary’s prep school (Zach Parise and Jonathan Toews are Shattuck products, among others) in Faribault, Minn., Fallstrom has been more of a two-way grinder in the four seasons he spent at Harvard. With 22 goals and 46 points (59 games) in his final two seasons with the Crimson, the offense is nothing to write home about, but he might end up as a more productive pro than he was as a collegian.

Fallstrom is an OK skater at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, and does well in the greasy areas of the ice where he throws his weight around and grinds it out along the walls. He’s not going to wow you with his skill level, and he’s not likely to rise above much more of a solid fourth-line role in the NHL if he gets there. He did get off to a nice start to his professional career, though – he assisted on a Max Sauve goal against the Manchester Monarchs on Sunday after signing an Amateur Tryout Option (ATO) with the Providence Bruins to finish out the 2012-13 season.

The B’s signed Fallstrom to a one-year ELC (worth $727.5k) that goes into effect next season (which does not count against the current 50-contract max), so the team will see how he looks over a full year before deciding where he fits going forward.

Bottom line: Fallstrom is a smart, industrious, meat-and-potatoes forward who would carry a higher value on a lesser NHL club. He has his work cut out for him to crack a Boston roster full of similar, but proven, veterans.

Does Niklas Svedberg have potential as a #1 in the NHL? – @heals11

I think he does. Svedberg (right) is simply a winner. And what NHL team isn’t on the lookout for any goaltender with that kind of pedigree?

He won a Swedish Elite League championship a year ago and followed that up by being just the third Providence goalie in team history to post 30 wins or more in a single season (John Grahame had 37, Tuukka Rask had 33), in his very first North American stint.

On the upside, Svedberg has good size, quickness and a fiery disposition that works more in his favor than against. Simply put, he digs in when the game is on the line and exhibits exceptional mental toughness by coming up with key saves in crucial situations. He’s got to work on his focus and avoiding giving up soft goals when his team has a lead, but to his credit, Svedberg manages to shut the door when he must. He’s been real strong in shootouts as well, a key ingredient for modern NHL goalies given the value of extra points in the regular season.

The late-bloomer has the talent and mental chops to be Rask’s backup as soon as next year, which allows Boston nice flexibility in terms of how they deal with Anton Khudobin’s impending free agency.

Does it seem likely that the Bruins will get Soderberg? – @Landeskoging

We’ll stick with the Swedish trend here (three questions in a row!). I’ll start by saying that it has been a long road in the will-he-won’t-he saga of Carl Soderberg.

In a quick recap, the second-round pick in 2004 by the St. Louis Blues was acquired in summer 2007 for Finnish goalie Hannu Toivonen after he had left North America and an AHL assignment to return to his native Sweden. He was also coming off a serious eye injury that had cast some doubt on the 6-foot-3 center’s pro future. Although Soderberg has proven in the years since Boston got his rights that he can handle the reduced vision in his left eye, he has resisted the team’s overtures to sign him.

Now, after a 31-goal season with Linkoping (tops in the Swedish Elite League) and finishing second overall in league scoring with 60 points, the B’s are trying to get him to sign on the dotted line because he is an impending unrestricted free agent. If they don’t have him in the fold, he goes to the highest bidder on July 1, and according to several sources, other NHL suitors are lining up to add the big centerman with speed, hockey sense and a wicked shot to the their club.

The Bruins have the inside track, because they still own his rights and apparently are close to an agreement with him (they can’t technically sign him until his season with Linkoping ends – either by winning the SEL championship in mid-April or if his team gets knocked out of the playoffs before then). Another hurdle that the B’s will have to get over is by securing Soderberg’s release from the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation. Normally, this is a mere formality, but with Sweden hosting the 2013 World Championship in May, Soderberg was expected to be a big part of the host nation club. To release him to the Bruins means the Swedes lose him for a tourney that they place a significantly greater emphasis on than do the North American hockey nations.

So, things are looking better for Soderberg to Boston than at any other time since 2007. He’s talented enough to slot right into the third line, even if he may need time to adjust to the NHL’s smaller ice surface. Don’t expect a dominating force for the B’s, but with his size, wheels and smarts, he could make that top-9 forwards group considerably better just in time for the playoffs.

What's the B's organizational weakness now? – @skirby84

With Dougie Hamilton having graduated to the NHL, defense is probably a position that could use an infusion of another skilled defender with size. The B’s have no shortage of smaller, talented defenders in the pipeline – Torey Krug (right), Matt Grzelcyk , David Warsofsky, even Russian Maxim Chudinov. However, beyond Zach Trotman, the B’s lack blueliners with the combination of size/strength and legitimate offensive upside.

Outside of goaltender, though, you can make the argument that all three of the forward positions could also stand upgrades via the draft as well.

What can you tell me about EJHL forward Zach Sanford? Is he a legit draft pick in June? – Joe P., via email

The short answer is: he absolutely is!

Zach Sanford (Auburn, N.H.) is arguably the fastest rising player for New England in the June 30 NHL Entry Draft (in Newark, N.J.).

He came into the season with acknowledged NHL tools including his size (6-foot-3), soft hands and a powerful skating stride. He did struggle with adjusting to the pace and challenge of the EJHL as opposed to what he had been used to skating in the New Hampshire high school circuit with Pinkerton.

However, by mid-season, his head coach Sean Tremblay (Newburyport, Mass.) said that Sanford started to put it all together. He finished the year with a flourish, scoring 10 goals in his last 12 games, although his Middlesex Islanders Hockey Club came up agonizingly short in their quest for the league’s Dineen Cup.

It looks like Sanford will play another season of junior before going to Boston College, and he should be a dominant force in the EJHL given his physical traits and natural upside. He’s raw, but there is a ton of good ability/talent for the NHL club that drafts him to work with. Sanford may be the best New Hampshire born-and-trained player to come out of the Granite State in decades.

For more on Sanford, check out the monthly Prospects Pulse column in the April issue of the New England Hockey Journal.

Kirk you going to be in NJ for the draft? Looking forward to some quality hockey talk. – @jchrz19

Sure am; the NHL draft is pretty much my Super Bowl and Stanley Cup Final all rolled into one. I don’t miss it if I can help it.

2013 is going to be quite hectic because of the lockout and subsequent schedule. All seven rounds will happen on Saturday, June 30 and then teams will bolt from Newark to get home for the start of free agency. That means the hockey writers are going to have their hands full in keeping up with all the breaking news, but most of us wouldn’t want it any other way.

Be sure to look me up if you are going, and if anyone recognizes my ugly mug walking around the Prudential Center and New York/New Jersey-area watering holes, I encourage you to stop me and say hello.

Twitter: @kluedeke29
Email: kluedeke@hockeyjournal.com