July 20, 2012

From NEHJ: Rolling the dice

By Kirk Luedeke

PITTSBURGH — With a strong organization one year removed from a Stanley Cup championship, the Boston Bruins didn’t need to make a major splash at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft last month, but instead they tried strengthening the system for the long term.

With their first pick late in the first round at No. 24, and only two in the top 85, the Bruins were limited in what they could accomplish in terms of landing players projected to have an immediate impact. Given those constraints, GM Peter Chiarelli and his staff took a longer view, adding players who are not only further away from others left on the board but also a little riskier in their outlook as well.

“I think we accomplished everything we set out to do,” said Wayne Smith, the Bruins director of amateur scouting. “We wanted to get some depth in goal; we believe we got a potential starting goaltender. We wanted to add some size and some toughness; we added that down the stretch. And we got some character players. I think all in all, it was a complete success as far as the scouting staff and management went toward our plan.” 

The Bruins surprised many with the selection of Malcolm Subban in the first round. (Getty Images)

By selecting goaltender Malcolm Subban with the 24th overall pick, the team acquired a potential star in net, albeit one who won’t be a threat to unseat current starter Tuukka Rask anytime soon. For the time being, Subban’s presence adds spice to the Boston-Montreal rivalry, with older brother P.K. having served as Public Enemy No. 1 for Bruins supporters for a few years now.

“He’s a obviously a real good goalie,” Chiarelli said after making the first-round pick. “Tremendous athlete. Incredible leg thrust post-to-post. (Subban is a) real good kid and solid character. This draft is more longer term. We’re happy to get him; we had him high, but we’re happy to get him.”

In the third round, the Bruins were unsuccessful in landing Jimmy Vesey (North Reading, Mass.), who went 66th overall to Nashville, but they did come away with Charlestown, Mass., native — and Vesey’s close friend and former Middlesex Islanders minor hockey teammate — Matt Grzelcyk. The small but skilled defenseman will skate for Boston University this fall and saw his dream of being drafted by the Bruins come true in Pittsburgh.

Beyond Grzelcyk, the Bruins grabbed a solid value pick in the fifth round with London (OHL) winger Seth Griffith, who scored 45 goals and 85 points to lead his team in scoring.

The Bruins went for toughness and physical play with their last three picks, adding a pair of power forwards in Cody Payne and Colton Hargrove in the fifth and seventh rounds. Sandwiched in between was a family-ties selection, going with rugged AJHL  defenseman Matthew Benning, the nephew of assistant GM Jim Benning.

Although the Bruins’ draft is a bit of a mixed bag in the immediate assessment process with input from outside sources, the club nonetheless was pleased with the results.

“I really believe that we were able to — without having a second-round pick — we were able to come away with the players we did,” Smith said. “They were all players we had ranked highly on our list that fit into the Bruins’ style of play as far as character goes and commitment to winning.”

 

Malcolm Subban

Born: Dec. 21, 1993, in Toronto

Selection: First round (24th overall)

Position: Goaltender

Size: 6-foot-1, 195 pounds

2011-12 team: Belleville Bulls (OHL)

2011-12 stats: 39 GP, 2258 min., 2.50 GAA, .923 save pct., 3 SO

The skinny: Highly athletic puckstopper is talented but raw. The second of Karl and Maria Subban’s sons was a standout defenseman until switching to goalie at age 12, so he’s got further to go in his development than many of his peers. Flexible and quick, his lower net coverage is superb, but he struggles with playing deep in his net and a mediocre glove hand. Not as gregarious (or polarizing) as his older brother, Malcolm Subban is nonetheless a solid citizen who possesses an even-keeled personality and should be able to handle the pressure of playing in Boston. Born in late 1993, he will be eligible to play in Providence of the AHL after one more season in the OHL.

Quotable: “I started (playing goal) when I was 12, so I started pretty late, but Henrik Lundqvist is the goalie that I look up to since 2006 watching him in the Winter Olympics. After that I’ve always watched him. I grew up watching a lot of goalies and trying different styles and his seemed to come to me the most and I felt pretty comfortable with his. I’ve been idolizing him ever since.” — Malcolm Subban

NEHJ grade: B-minus. The athleticism, bloodlines and home run potential make Subban’s selection an intriguing one. However, did the Bruins need to draft a goaltender in the first round? With other talented skaters on the board at the defense and forward positions, the team is taking a risk here, but the pick also could set the team up with Tuukka Rask’s heir apparent.

 

Matt Grzelcyk

Local product Matt Grzelcyk will head to BU this fall. (Getty Images)

Born: Jan. 5, 1994, in Charlestown, Mass.

Selection: Third round (85th overall)

Position: Defenseman

Size: 5-foot-9, 171 pounds

2011-12 team: U.S. NTDP Under-18 (USHL)

2011-12 stats: 56 GP, 2 G, 20 A, 22 points

The skinny: Townie has outstanding four-way directional mobility with quick initial burst, top-end gear and smooth footwork. The future Boston University Terrier thinks the game at a high level, with an excellent feel for the game and superb on-ice vision. As a strong passer and puck-mover, the 18-year-old has nice potential on special teams as a power-play set-up man. Lack of size is a concern, but Grzelcyk works out with noted strength and conditioning coach Mike Boyle with a good number of his fellow local NHL prospects. The Grzelcyk family bleeds Black and Gold; his father, John, is a longtime member of the Boston (and TD) Garden bull gang who raised his family around the Bruins. Last name pronounced: Grizz-lick.

Quotable: “He’s the type of kid who plays much bigger than he is. He’s got a Bruin mentality. He plays to win, he plays hard and is hard to play against. He plays a virtually mistake-free game, his decision-making, his ability to move the puck is second to none in this draft.” — Wayne Smith, Bruins director of amateur scouting

NEHJ grade: B. Grzelcyk gives the Bruins everything they admire in a player except for the size. However, the potential future BU captain can overcome that, even if he may have been taken earlier than projected. His playing style is reminiscent to that of current Boston stalwart Andrew Ference.

 

Seth Griffith

Born: Jan. 4, 1993, in Wallaceburg, Ontario

Selection: Fifth round (131st overall)

Position: Right winger

Size: 5-foot-10, 185 pounds

2011-12 team: London Knights (OHL)

2011-12 stats: 68 GP, 45 G, 40 A, 85 points

The skinny: The OHL scoring standout lacks ideal size and speed but simply knows how to put the puck in the net. Also a star lacrosse player, he uses his skills to fight for position and get himself into prime scoring areas. A leader and winner who was a late OHL pick yet willed himself into a top-line role with the Knights in less than two seasons. Hands, shot and hockey sense are his biggest strengths.

Quotable: “He’s a big-time player; he rises to the occasion. Dale and Mark Hunter were both preaching his game. They both feel that he brings that quality that they shared when they played. It’s that ability to win pucks, win races. He’s not going to bowl you over; he’s not a real big guy, but he has a high hockey IQ and he’s got an NHL shot and NHL release.” — Wayne Smith

NEHJ grade: A-minus. Passed over a year ago because of size and skating concerns. In the fifth round however, this is a nice chance to take. Once upon a time, another unappreciated lacrosse star from Ontario was completely passed over in the NHL draft but turned out to have one heck of a big-league hockey career: Adam Oates.

 

Cody Payne

Born: Jan. 14, 1994, in London, England

Selection: Fifth round (145th overall)

Position: Right winger

Size: 6-foot-2, 205 pounds

2011-12 team: Plymouth Whalers/Oshawa Generals (OHL)

2011-12 stats: 60 GP, 5 G, 11 A, 16 points

The skinny: Rugged power forward from Florida moved to Ontario at age 15 and was drafted into the OHL. Was buried on the fourth line of a deep Plymouth team after being traded from Oshawa early in the season, but he got a chance to play on the Whalers’ top two lines in December. North-south winger is an intimidating hitter and eagerly drops the gloves when needed. Plodding skater who needs to improve his first-step quickness and lateral agility. Payne is a solid character kid and hard worker.

Quotable: “I would say a real hard-working power forward that likes to forecheck hard … and definitely stands up for himself and teammates and he can fight and he can grind but definitely has a lot of skill and good hands and a good shot.” — Cody Payne, describing his own game

NEHJ grade: C. The Bruins clearly saw something when he got increased ice time with several of his Plymouth teammates in the World Juniors last winter. Right now, Payne slots in along with Tyler Randell and Anthony Camara as hard-nosed forwards with some intriguing tools, but who will need a lot of time to develop.

 

Matt Benning

Born: May 25, 1994, in St. Albert, Alberta

Selection: Sixth round (175th overall)

Position: Defenseman

Size: 6-foot, 218 pounds

2011-12 team: Spruce Grove Saints (AJHL)

2011-12 stats: 44 GP, 4 G, 14 A, 18 points

The skinny: Despite average height, Benning is a rock-solid 200 pounds already and is a big hitter. His father, Brian Benning, played more than 500 NHL games with the Blues, Kings, Flyers, Oilers and Panthers as a similar, average-sized defender with an edge. The younger Benning is slated to play in the USHL with the Dubuque Fighting Saints next season and projects as a shutdown defender who is tough to play against. 

Quotable: “Matt Benning is a big, strong kid. He’s very raw right now. His father obviously played in the National Hockey League. He moves the puck extremely well. He has a chip on his shoulder. When he’s on the ice people know. He’s the kind of guy that on the way to the bench gives you a shot in the head just because you looked at him.” — Wayne Smith

NEHJ grade: C. The Bruins like their bloodlines picks, and Benning is no exception. There always are places in NHL cities for players like this one, but he is a long time off from even competing for a spot on the Boston blue line.

 

Colton Hargrove

Born: June 25, 1992, in Rockwall, Texas

Selection: Seventh round (205th overall)

Position: Right winger

Size: 6-foot-2, 215 pounds

2011-12 team: Fargo Force (USHL)

2011-12 stats: 54 GP, 16 G, 22 A, 38 points

The skinny: Raw, snarly power forward turned 20 last month and is headed to Western Michigan University in the fall. Although his skating needs work, Hargrove is a banger with some decent hands and finishing ability around the net. A selfless player who does everything asked of him and is a popular teammate. The Bruins’ first-ever Texas-born-and-trained prospect.

Quotable: “I’d like to think I’m a power forward. I like to hit, forecheck. I think I’ve got some skill. I can score. That’s kind of what a power forward is, just a skilled grinder that likes to hit, so I think I can bring a physical game and some skill to the team.” — Colton Hargrove

NEHJ grade: C. The odds are long for Hargrove to establish himself as an NHL player, but he brings the size, toughness and character that the Bruins covet. If he can pick up a few steps, he should be a serviceable minor-leaguer at the very least.

Overall Bruins grade: C+

A year after coming away with an ‘A’ grade for landing Dougie Hamilton and Alexander Khokhlachev with their first two picks, the Boston Bruins made some riskier picks in 2012. Most of the selections are raw and requiring a lot of work on technique and development. At the same time, the Bruins have the luxury of a strong organization and can afford to be patient with all of their 2012 draft class. With the exception of Subban and Griffith, there isn’t a lot of swing-for-the-fences potential, but all of these prospects have character, drive and the kind of attitude to move forward in their progression. The jury will be out on this class for quite some time.

This article originally appeared in the July 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Kirk Luedeke covers the NHL draft and New England’s draft prospects for New England Hockey Journal. Read his blog, Kirk’s Call, at hockeyjournal.com.

Twitter: @kluedeke29 

Email: kluedeke@hockeyjournal.com