Bruins not giving up on finding puck-moving defensemen

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Bruins not giving up on finding puck-moving defensemen

If this weeks development camp for the Bruins brought one thing to light, its the never-ending search for the mythic puck-moving defenseman.

The Bruins have a well-chronicled history of searching for a puck-moving partner to pair with Zdeno Charas tower of defensive power, but they havent found their permanent Mr. Right since Peter Chiarelli took over the Bs reins six seasons ago.

First there was Dennis Wideman, who had a 50-point season in Boston before subpar skating skills and ill-timed turnovers sent him on his way.

Matt Hunwick developed within the Bruins system, but ultimately didnt have the skills necessary to be that defenseman.

Steve Kampfer similarly rose up through Bostons ranks, but didnt prove to be answer while coming down with injuries at the worst possible times.

There was, of course, Tomas Kaberle as well. The Bruins won a Cup with Kaberle after he arrived from Toronto, but he essentially became a third pairing defenseman during the playoffs that quarterbacked the worst power play in history to ever actually win a Cup.

Obviously weve tried to develop a puck-mover a little bit in the last few years, or bring in a player of that ilk," said Bruins assistant GM Don Sweeney. "People would comment that Kaberle wasnt a great fit, but he helped us win a Stanley Cup. I dont care what anybody says. He played with Adam McQuaid and he helped out McQuaid in terms of transitioning the puck and making sure we werent in our own end. Those were key ingredients.

Everything about Kaberles usefulness is ultimately debatable, but nobody can argue with Sweeneys point that the Bruins won it all despite the flaws of the current Montreal Canadiens blueliner.

Finally last season Joe Corvo was a one-and-out after playing like he was actively trying to relocate into Claude Juliens dog house. The Bruins attempted to protect Corvo by keeping him away from the oppositions best offensive players, but once again he couldnt offset his defensive foibles with enough offensive production.

After seeing gun-for-hire defensemen and traded assets ultimately crash and burn as Bostons puck-moving defenseman, it appears they are finally turning inward as an organization for solutions.

And theyre not doing it with just one candidate.

Nineteen year-old Dougie Hamilton holds the inside track for the sixth defenseman spot on the Bruins heading into next year, and his 95 point season (regular season and playoffs combined) at the junior hockey level show offensive proficiency. While Hamilton is a more well-rounded defensemen than puck-movingpower play specialist, Sweeney believes he might grow into an elite offensive defenseman.

You look at what Doug Hamilton may or may not be able to bring and what he was able to do at the junior level. You hope that his offensive skills translate and that hes gonna be a puck mover, said Sweeney. Is he a prototypical guy . . . sometimes you describe those guys as being small and skilled wise? No, those guys are big and skilled now. Its the best of both worlds in that regard.

Torey Krug's another potential candidate . . . you know, he came in and moved the puck in the couple of games that he played very effectively. Im sure the guys in Providence would say the same thing about David Warsofsky. Clearly were trying to make sure that we have that part of it covered because we feel like its a need. If we can do something better at the NHL level, then we need to go out and develop it.

Thats exactly what theyre doing: David Warsofsky and Torey Krug will both be in Bruins training camp as young defensemen with puck-moving skills and fast-paced skating on their resume. They are in the latest in a line of candidates to fill Bostons vacancy for a PMD (puck-moving defenseman) and Krug showed some promise in a pair of dress rehearsal games with the Bruins at the end of last season.

Then theres 18-year-old Charlestown, Mass native Matt Grzelcyk, who showed perhaps the best skating wheels of any player in the entire Bruins Development Camp this week after the Bruins secured his rights in the third round of the draft. Grizz showed the aggressive willingness to jump up into the play offensively against players older, bigger and stronger than him in first development camp, and fearlessly flashed 360 degree spin moves when looking for a little offensive separation.

The future Boston University star is likely four or five years away from playing in a Bruins uniform if things go well in Jack Parkers hockey program. But Grzelcyk is a future PMD the Bruins will keep tabs on over his collegiate career while they also try out a few new candidates for the position in the meantime.

It certainly beats the alternative.

It is expensive to acquire that puck-moving defenseman as it would be to sign a player; Dennis Widemans contract is what it is, said Sweeney. Ideally, youd like to develop that, and you would be homegrown in every position. We look for the puck-moving defenseman, of course.

Youre not going to be able to force that. Even looking at this years draft, you know, would you go up and trade for a player? That player might not be there, and might not be ready for two or three years.

So instead the first new wave of puck-moving defensemen candidates will include Krug, Warsofsky and Hamilton this coming season. Eventually one would expect the law of averages will begin working on their favor, and one of Bostons undersized, skilled choices will develop into a Bryan Rafalski-type blueliner.

But until then the search for the elusive, mythic PMD rages on for the Bruins and they'll will keep on trying until they find what they're looking for.

Dupont on Backes: B's won't have any problem with this deal

Dupont on Backes: B's won't have any problem with this deal

Kevin Paul Dupont joins Sports Tonight to discuss the Bruins signing former St. Louis Blue David Backes to a 5-year, $30 million deal.

Bruins make official free agent signings of Liles, Nash, Khudobin

Bruins make official free agent signings of Liles, Nash, Khudobin

The Bruins made a number of signings official on the first day of NHL free agency on Friday along with the big prize in hard-hitting, productive center David Backes.

Backup goaltender Anton Khudobin signed a two-year deal worth $1.2 million per season to return as a goaltending tandem with Tuukka Rask as they were back in a highly successful 2012-13 NHL season.

Hustling, grinding fourth line forward Riley Nash was signed to a two-year, $1.8 million contract with the Bruins as well, and had nine goals and 22 points in 64 games for the Carolina Hurricanes last season in an energy forward role. In his five-year NHL career, Nash has played in 242 games, amassing 31 goals and 50 assists for 81 points with 69 penalty minutes, including a career-high 10 goals a couple of years ago with the Hurricanes.

The 36-year-old John-Michael Liles signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Bruins after arriving from Carolina at the NHL trade deadline last spring. Liles appeared in 17 games and notched six assists along with a minus-6 rating for the Bruins in 2015-16 after being acquired for Anthony Camara, a 2016 third-round pick and a 2017 fifth-round pick on February 29, 2016. Prior to joining up with Boston, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Liles played in all 64 games for Carolina, recording six goals and nine assists for 15 points with 16 penalty minutes.

“We went out to identify a primary target in David Backes as a center, right wing candidate. He provides depth and balance to our lineup, as did Riley Nash. And Anton Khudobin addressed an area that we seemed to have chased for a little while and possibly with Malcolm’s [Subban] injury we needed to address that for the next couple of seasons. John-Michael Liles is a player that we acquired last year that really added a lot to the mobility and the transition game and we’re excited about bringing him back,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney. “Tim Schaller was a local boy at Providence College that we went out and identified another size, strength, left-shot, penalty kill and continued to add depth. Tyler Randell emerged last year was on our roster all year long, contributed and was a real hard-nosed player, sticks up for his teammates, was able to contribute goals, albeit not necessarily in the lineup every night, bringing balance. And Tommy Cross and the leadership qualities he brings to Providence for younger players to continue to develop.

“He found himself playing in NHL games, acquainted himself very well, just a real quality person across the board. So I think the overall philosophy of today and going into the free agent period was to address some needs and we did that. But we’ve created what I think is a real internal competition for our younger players to step up and emerge around what I think we’ve added to the core group of our players. They should be excited about this opportunity.”

Tommy Cross, Tyler Randell and Tim Schaller all signed one-year, two-way deals with the Bruins for an NHL value of $600,000, but are all expected to play the bulk of the season at the AHL level barring anything unexpected. 

Joe Haggerty can be followed on Twitter: @HacksWithHaggs

Backes: Most of the talk has me playing center for Bruins

Backes: Most of the talk has me playing center for Bruins

David Backes on the Felger and Mazz show on 98.5 The Sports Hub, and simulcast on CSN, tells fill-in hosts Jim Murray and Greg Dickerson there has also been some discussion with the Bruins of putting him on the wing with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.

Watch the video above for more.