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.

Friday, July 29: Good signs in Bruins-Marchand negotiations

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Friday, July 29: Good signs in Bruins-Marchand negotiations

Here are the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while using “malarkey” in my day-to-day vocabulary as much as possible. 
 
-- Dale Tallon was promoted with the Florida Panthers to accentuate his strengths as a talent evaluator, but maintains that he still has final say on hockey decisions
 
-- PHT writer Cam Tucker has another young D-man off the board with the Wild’s Matthew Dumba signing a two year, $5.1 million deal with Minnesota
 
-- In the interest of self-promotion, here’s my take on the negotiations between Brad Marchand and the Bruins: There’s a couple of good signs at the outset of negotiations
 
-- The Arizona Coyotes are stressing the defensive side of things in a big, big way, and it appears to be part of John Chayka’s master plan

 -- Alex Pietrangelo would be a natural selection to replace David Backes as the next captain of the St. Louis Blues. 

-- A moving letter from Sens forward Bobby Ryan to his recently passed mother is up at the Players Tribune website. 

-- Chris Kreider has re-signed with the New York Rangers, and plans to get out of his head and onto the score sheet more often. 
 
-- For something completely different: Jerod Mayo will bring a new voice to Tom E. Curran’s Quick Slants program on our very own CSN network. 

 

List of Bruins prospects includes two familiar names

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List of Bruins prospects includes two familiar names

With decidedly Boston-sounding names and thoroughly familiar faces, given their resemblances to their ex-Bruin dads, it might have been easy to overlook Ryan Donato and Ryan Fitzgerald and focus on the truly little-known prospects at Development Camp earlier this month.

But on the ice, their brimming confidence, their offensive skills and the maturity to their all-around game was impossible to ignore.

When it was over, general manager Don Sweeney singled out Donato, who plays at Harvard, and Fitzgerald, from Boston College -- along with Notre Dame forward Anders Bjork and former Boston University defenseman Matt Grzelcyk -- as players who have developed significantly.
 
“[They're] just comfortable in what they’re doing,” said Sweeney. “I mean, they’ve played at the college hockey level . . . two, three, four years with some of these kids. They’re very comfortable in their own skin and in what they do.”
 
Donato, 20, is actually coming off his first season at Harvard, where he posted 13 goals and 21 points in 32 games. He looked like he was in midseason form during Development Camp, showing off a scoring touch, skill with the puck on his stick in tight traffic, and the instincts to anticipate plays that allow him to beat defenders to spots in the offensive zone. He’s primed for a giant sophomore season with the Crimson, based on his showing at camp.
 
“Every year is a blast," said Donato, son of former Bruins forward and current Harvard coach Ted Donato. "You just come in [to development camp] with an open mindset where you soak everything up from the coaches like a sponge, and see what they say. Then I just do my best to incorporate it into my game and bring it with me to school next year.
 
“One of the things that [Bruins coaches and management] has said to me -- and it’s the same message for everybody -- is that every area of your game is an important one to develop. The thing about the NHL is that every little detail makes the difference, and that’s what I’ve been working on whether it’s my skating, or my defensive play. Every little piece of my game needs to be developed.”
 
Then there's Fitzgerald, 21, who is entering his senior season at BC after notching 24 goals and 47 points in 40 games last year in a real breakout season. The 2013 fourth-round pick showed speed and finishing ability during his Development Camp stint and clearly is close to being a finished hockey product at the collegiate level.
 
“It was good. It’s definitely a fun time being here, seeing these guys and putting the logo on,” said Fitzgerald, son of former Bruins forward Tom Fitzgerald, after his fourth Development Camp. “One thing I’m focusing on this summer is getting stronger, but it’s also about just progressing and maturing.
 
“I thought . . . last year [at BC] was a pretty good one, so I just try to build off that and roll into my senior season. [The Bruins] have told me to pretty much continue what I’m doing in school. When the time is right I’ll go ahead [and turn pro], so probably after I graduate I’ll jump on and make an impact.”
 
Fitzgerald certainly didn’t mention or give any hints that it could happen, but these days it has to give an NHL organization a bit of trepidation anytime one of their draft picks makes it all the way to their senior season. There’s always the possibility of it turning into a Jimmy Vesey-type situation if a player -- like Fitzgerald -- has a huge final year and draws enough NHL interest to forego signing with the team that drafted him for a shot at free agency in the August following his senior season.
 
It may be a moot point with Fitzgerald, a Boston kid already living a dream as a Bruins draft pick, but it’s always a possibility until he actually signs.
 
In any case, both Donato and Fitzgerald beat watching in their respective college seasons after both saw their development level take a healthy leap forward.