Julien, Kessel bury hatchet

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Julien, Kessel bury hatchet

OTTAWA It might have been a bit surprising Team Chara captain Zdeno Chara okayed the All-Star draft selection of Phil Kessel for the weekends All-Star events at Scotiabank Place. It was Joffrey Lupuls pick, to be sure, but Chara signed off on a player that memorably bolted out of Boston three years ago.

But it clearly speaks to the ten tons of water now under the bridge when it comes to the messy divorce between Kessel and the Bruins. Kessel, the natural born goal-scorer, crafted an escape route to Toronto and hes been looked at as a weasely villain ever since.

Its been three long years since Kessel left Boston for bluer pastures with the Maple Leafs, and both sides have clearly moved on.

The ultimate closure arrived for the Bruins when they captured the Stanley Cup last spring. The rapid development of Tyler Seguin into an All-Star is the cherry on top of the sundae.

With that in mind it was interesting to hear Bruins coach Claude Julien who will coach Kessel for the first time Sunday since his departure from Boston reveal a conversation he enjoyed with Kessel following the All-Star Draft Thursday night.

Julien and Kessel clashed often during his three seasons with the Bruins and on a myriad of subjects: Kessel would routinely get challenged for not working hard enough in the weight room and for his stubborn choice in hockey sticks. Kessel, on the other hand, never really forgave Julien for benching him during the first round playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens during his second season in the league.

The friction between Kessel and Julien was widely believed a big factor in Kessels forced exit to the Maple Leafs, but it appears thats been smoothed over with an All-Star chat that was a long time coming.

The years go by and its always nice to see those guys again. I had a really good conversation with Phil yesterday. Hes obviously excited and loves where he is, said Julien. Thats what its all about. We obviously lost a good player, but it was a trade that had to be made. In return we got a couple of good players, so it worked out for both sides.

Kessel is never going to truly open his veins to the media about anything never mind a heart-to-heart with his former coach, but even No. 81 admitted he looks back on his experience in Boston with a much different lens these days. Hes a two-time All-Star and one of the most dangerous scorers in the league, and he knows the Bs coaching staff was trying to make him a better player.

Much like a grown-up child that eventually realizes why their parents were hard on them long after the fact, Kessel understands what happened in Boston was part of his development. How much does Kessel think hes matured since he left Boston?

Quite a bit. I meanthat was three years ago now, right? I was still pretty young. I was just getting used to the league back in the day. I think you take every lesson that you learn in the league and get better as a player and a person, said Kessel. When we were there he tried to make me a better hockey player.

I have a lot of respect for what hes done. Hes a good coach and a good guy. I understand some of the things Julien did now. When I was there I was young. I wanted to play and help.

Is Kessel going to enjoy playing with Julien behind the bench again?

Itll be fineyeah, said Kessel. I played with him for a couple of years and he taught me a lot about the game. Hes obviously a good coach. Its nice for him to get recognized here because hes done great in Boston. Its a good thing for him.

It sounds like at 24 years old with a potential 40-goal season and playoff berth in his future, Kessel is finally starting to get it as an NHL player.

Bruins will add assistant coach, tap Bradley to run draft board

Bruins will add assistant coach, tap Bradley to run draft board

While the Bruins technically operated, and operated well, short one coach once assistant coach Bruce Cassidy replaced Claude Julien behind the Boston bench, that’s not expected to continue for the upcoming season.

Bruins GM Don Sweeney confirmed this week that the B’s will be retaining the current assistant coach group of Joe Sacco, Jay Pandolfo and Bob Essensa to work under Cassidy as full-time head coach, and that they’ll be looking to add one more person to his staff.

“I think our staff did a very good job jumping in and picking up, because we didn’t add to it at the time [of Cassidy’s promotion] when we subtracted from the group. It will stay as is,” said Sweeney. “We will also be looking to add to it to complement that group. Bruce and I have already spoken briefly about it, but we haven’t identified yet and we’ve already received some people that would have some interest. We’ll pursue that accordingly.”

Sacco handled the defensemen and the penalty kill in the final few months of the season, and Pandolfo worked with the forwards in his very first season as an NHL assistant coach following a stint in player development. Essensa, of course, worked with the goaltenders and as the “eye in the sky” from the press box once Pandolfo moved to the bench following the coaching change. So the natural assumption would be that the Bruins would hire another former defenseman to work with the D-men given the backgrounds of Sacco and Pandolfo as forwards.

“We haven’t gotten too far out in front of it. But, Joe Sacco moved from the front of the bench to the D, and did a terrific job [while playing a] big part of the penalty kill all year. Jay [Pandolfo] came down from the press box, worked with the forwards, which he had worked with all year. But now he’s in the heat of the battle. They were terrific. We were a true staff,” said Cassidy. “Goalie Bob [Essensa] became a little bit more of an eye in the sky for us up there. We had Kim [Brandvold], who was our skating coach, helped a lot with the practices, with the pace we were trying to establish. I can’t thank them enough.

“Going forward, we’re going to meet and decide what’s the best fit for us [as an assistant hire]. Obviously those two have a forward background, I have a defense background, so maybe that’s an area we have to look at, what’s the best complement. But we’d be getting ahead of ourselves if I said today that we’re pinpointing an exact thing. We’ve got to look at it and say, ‘OK, who’s the best fit. What makes us the most successful?’ We’ll go from there with the candidates we get.”

The situation automatically leads one to wonder if P-Bruins head coach Kevin Dean would be a possible candidate as a longtime Cassidy assistant at the AHL level, or if Dean wants to continue on his track as a head coach. If not Dean then perhaps Providence Bruins assistant coach and former Bruins D-man Jay Leach might also be a strong candidate after his first season working with the young P-Bruins at the AHL level.

While it’s clear the Bruins still have some discussions before potentially making a move on hiring an NHL assistant for Cassidy’s staff, they have made a determination about their scouting staff. The B’s never replaced the head of amateur scouting position when Keith Gretzky was hired as an assistant general manager with the Edmonton Oilers, and it will instead be Bruins assistant GM Scott Bradley that will run Boston’s draft board in June.

“Scotty Bradley has stepped back into that role, which he’s very comfortable doing. He holds the title of Assistant General Manager and he’ll oversee the draft. We’re very comfortable with the people he’s worked with in recent years that have been a big, big part of our recent drafts. Our meetings went well,” said Sweeney. “They were just at the U-18s and had other subsequent meetings, so there will be some banter in the upcoming [scouting] meetings, in terms of where we end up finalizing our list. Scotty will oversee that.”

It’s not exactly foreign territory for Bradley, who previously held the head scouting position with the Black and Gold and played an instrumental role in drafting players like Milan Lucic, Phil Kessel, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. But there’s also some question as to how big a role Gretzky played in drafting the massive wave of talented prospects now pushing their way through Boston’s system, and how much his presence will be missed at NHL Draft weekend moving forward.  

Saturday, April 29: The race for the top pick in NHL Draft

Saturday, April 29: The race for the top pick in NHL Draft

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while tipping my hat to the Celtics after an emotional, impressive showing against the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs.

*It’s a tight race for the No. 1 overall ranking headed into this summer’s NHL Draft and it also doesn’t necessarily seem like a surefire superstar player right off the bat either.

*The New York Rangers seem to have a little more respect for the “underdog” Ottawa Senators headed into Game 2 of their series.

*Speaking of the Senators, it looks like they may once again have the best player in the series with the dominant Erik Karlsson at the top of his game while presiding over the best-of-seven playoff match.

*The Carolina Hurricanes are rolling the dice that they can sign Scott Darling to be their No. 1 goalie before he gets to unrestricted free agency.

*PHT writer James O’Brien helps break down the method that the Vegas Golden Knights are going to use to build their team, but the bottom line is they don’t want to be boring.

*Milan Lucic is enjoying the ride with the Edmonton Oilers as they’ve taken a 2-0 lead in their series against the Ducks.

*For something completely different: Interesting news about M. Night Shyamalan, who is making a sequel that will tie together two of his hit movies.