O'Gara's improvement shows

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O'Gara's improvement shows

If there were an award for most improved at Bruins Development Camp this week, it would have gone to 6-foot-4 defenseman Robbie OGara without any debate.

The giant man-child defenseman was a little bit of a babe lost in the woods last season as a 17-year-old out of Milton Academy competing against faster, more worldly, more experienced competition among Bruins prospects.

It was to be expected. Physically, he simply appeared younger than his peers, and had plenty of work in front of him to start filling out his reedy teenager build. It looks like OGara did just that by hitting the weight room over the last year. He utilized his entire experience at last years development camp as the highest form of motivation.

Ive definitely become stronger over the last year. I worked hard over the past year because the camp was a wakeup call. I think bigger, stronger and faster is going to be my goal for a long time. But the gains that Ive made have helped my confidence, said OGara. For me this year is 100 percent different. Last year, I was really nervous and pretty much freaking out before I got here.

This year, Im putting myself out there a little more on and off the ice. Im having a lot more fun too.

OGara came back to development camp this season and looked like a completely different player. He has gained size and strength physically through the combination of maturation and diligent work, and he skated with the kind of confidence a player shows when he knows he belongs.

It became customary to see OGara throwing bodies around near the net and clearing space so his goaltender could see the attackers on the outside. Those kinds of anchored, stalwart defenders are worth their weight in gold at the NHL level.

OGara was using that ideal size to shove players around in the defensive zone, and was one of the biggest physical factors in camp, along with grinding bottom-six pugilist Anthony Camara.

The gains in one year show that the OGara, 18, is ready for higher competition as he heads to Yale in the fall.

While OGara was a viable offensive player and power play performer for Milton Academy, putting up 25 points in 24 games last season, he may be more of a stay-at-home type defenseman at the Division I college level.

That should set up some pretty good Bs prospect battles between OGara and Cornell forward Brian Ferlin over the next three years in the ECACHL -- something they joked about along with Union College camp invitee Wayne Simpson this week.

Big-time college hockey is also a perfectly good lot in life when youre a solid 6-foot-4, 193 pound block of raw hockey talent like OGara. He's still growing into a potential shutdown blueliner down the road.

Last year he walked in and I think I had seen bigger legs on these aluminum chairs, you know. Then he comes in this year hes talkative and he looks more like a man than a boy. With his style of play hes a defender and a big guy, said Providence Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. So when he grows into his frame and recognizes how to use his stickhes not flashy at all but could be a very serviceable guy for you down the road.

I definitely see improvement physically in him and just his sort of demeanor around the locker room. Like a lot of guys when they go through a year of camp they get a little more comfortable and learn a couple things about the pro side of things. Hopefully, he takes that forward with him off to Yale, and has a good year.

Part of the beauty of the prospect development camp is taking players from all different development backgrounds and pushing them together for a week of drills and scrimmages. Placing the relatively inexperienced OGara in with players bragging world class hockey backgrounds, such as Dougie Hamilton and Malcolm Subban, has opened his eyes to where he needs his game to be, and the big blueliner project has responded exactly as they hoped.

Going into Yale I know my game. I think Im more of a stay-at-home guy and just trying to be as solid as I can back there, said OGara. I play my game and thats keeping the puck out of the net.

OGaras self-awareness about his simple, strong defensive style and his willingness to work mean the past years improvement is a sign of much more to come.

Sources: Bruins engaged in trade talks involving Ryan Spooner

Sources: Bruins engaged in trade talks involving Ryan Spooner

This probably won’t come as a complete shock to those watching the way things have played out with him this season, but the Bruins have engaged in discussions with multiple teams about a Ryan Spooner trade, per multiple sources with knowledge of the situation. 

The 23-year-old Spooner was mentioned casually a few months ago as possible fodder in a Jacob Trouba deal with the Winnipeg Jets, but that deal never really materialized prior to the Jets signing their young, frontline D-man to a two-year deal. The Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders and San Jose Sharks have all expressed interest in Spooner, per one hockey source, as it appears that things simply aren’t going to work out for him in Boston. 

It’s been a challenging year for Spooner with pedestrian numbers of three goals and eight points in 24 games, but there are plenty of mitigating circumstances behind the slow start. Spooner has been pushed into playing left wing for the bulk of the season rather than his natural, preferred center position, and he’s been dropped to the fourth line by Claude Julien over the last few weeks. At times he’s also been pulled from the Bruins power play where he racked up six goals and 17 points working off the half-wall last season.  

Julien talked about the former second round pick in frank terms after this week’s win over the Carolina Hurricanes, which featured a Spooner snipe to the top corner during a successful shootout for the Black and Gold. 

“I think at times that [David Krejci] line goes quiet, other times it’s better. We’ve tried different guys on the left side right now and one [Spooner] might give them speed but doesn’t win as many battles,” said Julien of his search for stability at left wing alongside Krejci and David Backes. “The other way [with Tim Schaller] guys are a little harder right now, and they spend more time in the O-zone. So we’re really trying hard to find the right balance there.”

Trade talks have increased the past few weeks because A) the situation has worsened recently with Spooner’s prolonged stint as a miscast fourth line winger and B) the speedy, skilled forward will most likely be a man without a spot when 22-year-old left winger Frank Vatrano returns sometime around the mid-December range. 

According to one source, the Bruins are asking for a “top six forward” in exchange for a package including Spooner, and it’s a lead pipe certainty they’re looking for some goal-scoring given their 24th ranked offense this season. That represents a bit of an organizational sea change after the Bruins searched low and high for a top-4 defenseman in trade over the summer. The emergence of 20-year-old Brandon Carlo, and the Boston defense’s performance across the board, has lowered the Black and Gold’s priority list need to trade for a D-man. 

The Bruins have scored two goals or fewer in 18 of their 25 games this season and badly need somebody that can put the puck in the net from one of the wing positions. Unfortunately for the Bruins, there aren’t a lot of top-6 forwards readily available that could make an immediate impact. It’s highly doubtful any team is going to fork one over for an asset like Spooner that’s been downgraded due to the way he’s been utilized by the Bruins this season. He hasn't played with the same creativity or confidence this season after posting 13 goals and 49 points as their third line center last season. 

So it remains to be seen what the Bruins will get for Spooner after they offered him and a draft pick to Buffalo for rental forward Chris Stewart a couple of years ago. That was a deal Sabres GM Tim Murray turned down before trading Stewart for considerably less at the trade deadline.

The bottom line: the Bruins are working the phones discussing possible Spooner deals, and it feels like there is some motivation from B’s management to move a player that doesn’t seem like he'll ever be a proper fit in Julien’s system. 

Sunday Dec. 4: Zacha adjusting to life in the NHL

Sunday Dec. 4: Zacha adjusting to life in the NHL

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while marveling at the Bruins setting a franchise record this season for fewest practices in a regular season. Thanks compacted schedule due to the World Cup!

*Pavel Zacha is adjusting to life as a rookie in the NHL with the New Jersey Devils, and things are getting better as they go along.

*Manitoba Moose players relive their favorite Star Wars moments prior to the team holding their Star Wars Night.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Elliotte Friedman sits down with new Florida Panthers head coach Tom Rowe to discuss the massive changes in that organization with the firing of Gerard Gallant.

*Good for Anders Nilson putting a rainbow decal on the back of his goalie to mask to support some gay friends that have faced public resistance in their lives.

*Bruce Garrioch has his weekly NHL notes with several players, including Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald, potentially on the trade block if anybody wants them.

*PHT writer Cam Tucker has Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson suffering a broken leg that will keep him out 6-8 weeks.

*There was no blood for the Vancouver Canucks fans, but there was still plenty of drama in a win over the Maple Leafs.

*For something completely different: The World Baseball Classic works for everybody except for Major League Baseball, and that would appear to be a problem.