Lucic brings the power for the Bruins

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Lucic brings the power for the Bruins

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Milan Lucic is Bostons game-breaker.

Its become a little trendy to knock the Bruins in recent weeks as not quite elite or just a little shy of Stanley Cup worthy despite a seven-game winning streak in the heat of the regular season that belies all of that.

The biggest reason given is the lack of game-breaking talent for the Bruins in terms of high-scoring skill forwards. Stanley Cup teams in the recent past have had theirs. Think Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane from the Blackhawks, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin from the Pittsburgh Penguins, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk from Red Wings.

While the Bruins sit near the top of goal-producing teams in the NHL, critics believe they dont have enough game-breaking forwards to score goals when defenses tighten up and theres less free ice to maneuver through.

The problem with this theory about the Bruins: Lucic keeps punching power-forward-sized holes in it.

When you mention all of those teams, youre talking about impact forwards, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said when posed the game-breaking question in an interview with CSNNE.com that will appear in the first web episode of the "Great American Hockey Show."

We believe we have impact players at other positions in the form of an impact defenseman in Zdeno Chara and an impact goaltender in Tim Thomas. Then weve also got some young forwards that we believe are becoming impact players.

First on that list of up-and-coming forwards is No. 17 in your programs.

Lucic engineered a textbook playoff-style goal when he helped create havoc in front of the net by fighting with the puck through the Tampa Bay defense with big defenseman Pavel Kubina ridingon his back, and then flipped a bad-angle shot high into the net in the games final four minutes to give Boston a 2-1 win over the Lightning.

I was just trying to look for the loose puck because there was enough guys in front of the net, said Lucic, recounting the score in a game that gave Boston seven wins in a row and sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference. I knew there was no real reason for me to get in there but just kind of wait around, see if something popped out and it did and everyone was on the ice including their goalie so I just shot it high and hard and it went in."

The game-winning score was Lucics second in the last four games, and served as the epitome of a postseason-level score with bodies flying in front of the net six if you count spreadeagled Tampa goaltender Mike Smith and determination standing as the only thing between winning and losing.

It was Lucics 28th goal of the season, and another piece of evidence in a building case that he is Bostons game-breaking forward.

Throw in his ill-timed but decisive beatdown of a reticent Eric Brewer in the second period, and you have a pretty good picture of how difficult it will be to contain Lucic once the real games start in late April.

Thats a rare thing when you have a guy thats so physical and so tough, but also has the finishing touch and can put the puck in the net, said Gregory Campbell. You dont often see nowadays the power forward prototype that we saw a lot in the 1990s and even further back. But those guys are valuable.

He plays a big role for us. Hes good defensively as well, so the other team has to respect his game and has to respect his skill. He plays hard, and thats somebody that you need in the playoffs: somebody that plays hard and somebody that can score.

Lucic is on a pace to score 35-plus goals this season, and he has flashed a devastating wrist shot thats made him more intimidating to opponents with his stick than with his fists. His 20 points (12 goals, 8 assists) in the last 20 games are a testament to that. He has helped make his line -- with linemates David Krejci and Nathan Horton -- downright dangerous for the last two weeks.

We want to score, and we're wanting to have the puck, said Horton with poetic simplicity. I think when we dont have it, well forecheck to get it back, and I think thats why things are working.

Lucic has never had more than 17 goals in a season. Most thought he might turn into a nice 20-goal scorer capable of being a tough guy and a top-six forward, but Lucic is in the middle of establishing himself as something much different.

The big left wing set for himself a goal of being the best player on the ice as often as possible this season, and hes following through with punishing shifts, brutal physicality thats really shown up of late and an elite goal-scoring touch the Bs desperately needed.

Hes got a great attitude. He wants to be a big guy on our team, and hes showing it, said Mark Recchi. Hes learning that when he comes to compete every night and does things the right way, then things happen for him. When he plays physical goals fall right into place, and when he doesnt then they dont. They go hand-in-hand.

Hes a talented enough player that when he gets the room to operate, then hes going to bury it.

Lucic has taken the next step up this season to one of the NHLs next superstars in his hybrid power forward role, and that should make all the difference in the world once the cold, merciless playoff dance begins.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

NHL Notes: Boston University ready for historic night at NHL Draft

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NHL Notes: Boston University ready for historic night at NHL Draft

BUFFALO – There will be plenty of wide, toothy grins at the First Niagara Center on Friday night as the NHL conducts the first round of their entry draft, but no smile will be bigger than that of Boston University head coach David Quinn.

That’s because the Terriers head coach will, according to just about every NHL draftnik, see four of his players from next year’s hockey team get selected among the top-30 players drafted up on Friday night. Clayton Keller, Kieffer Bellows and Dante Fabbro are all incoming freshman recruits for next season expected to go in the top half of the first round, and defenseman Charlie McAvoy is coming off an outstanding first season for the Scarlet and White.

It would be only the second time in NCAA hockey history that four kids from the same college program have been first round picks in the same draft: the other was Minnesota ten years ago or when four Golden Gophers were nabbed in the first round, Erik Johnson (No. 1), Phil Kessel (No. 5), Kyle Okposo (No. 7), and David Fischer (No. 20).

So clearly it’s something that has Quinn excited at the prospects for BU next season, and continuing the impressive flow of hockey talent through the program after Jack Eichel’s departure following one brilliant freshman season.

“It’s fun watching these kids achieve their dreams and goals, and in the last 10 years the draft has really taken on an even greater significance to all these kids,” said Quinn. “We’re very fortunate at BU that we’ve got a school that supports our program, we’ve got a long and rich tradition and we’ve got very talented kids that are attracted to that.

“All of the stars have aligned here this year where we could have a lot of kids taken in the first round, so it’s fun to watch kids that you’ve built relationships with go ahead and achieve their goals. It’s a rare thing. It’s a testament to the work that Steve Greeley, Albie O’Connell and Scott Young have done. If you think about this class, these guys are from all over. Dante Fabbro is from Vancouver, and Clayton Keller is from St. Louis. Kieffer Bellows is from Minnesota, and Charlie McAvoy is from Long Island. It’s not like these guys all grew up in Massachusetts. [The recruiters] have done a phenomenal job of finding talent, and then doing a great job recruiting them. It speaks volumes to the work those guys have done.”

So Quinn, assistant coaches Albie O’Connell and Scott Young each deserve a healthy slice of the credit for keeping together the impressive class of talent, and former BU assistant coach Steve Greeley deserves just as much credit for his recruiting legwork prior to getting hired as the Assistant Director of Player Personnel for the New York Rangers.

With the Blueshirts not making a selection until the 81st pick, Greeley joked that “he'll be the guy at the New York Rangers table who has to be restrained from standing and clapping for those guys when they get picked by other teams.” He was joking, of course, but it speaks to the considerable investment of time and energy in recruiting an elite group of players, and then watching it all culminate on the draft floor before they take the ice at Agganis Arena this fall.

It also speaks to what Boston University has cooking on Commonwealth Ave. where they’re building a powerhouse program that could threaten for a national championship this season. That’s a level of expectation that Quinn welcomes along with the wealth of talented players.

“I think it will be an easier year of hockey for [the incoming players] because there’s so much pressure during your draft year,” said Quinn. “Whether or you’re playing college hockey, or the US National Program or in juniors, these kids are under the microscope. I watched Jack [Eichel] go through it last year, and I watched Charlie McAvoy go through it this year. It’s human nature at their age that you want to impress, and that can sometimes get in the way of doing things that you’re supposed to be doing.

“But we always have high expectations at BU, and we’ve always been fortunate to have great players here. The challenge we’re going to face is what every team faces. We’re going to have enough talent, but there are about seven or eight other characteristics you need if you’re going to win championships. We talk about it every year here: work ethic, leadership, camaraderie, mental toughness, perseverance, how you handle adversity…all of those things go into whether you win or lose, and whether you win championships or not.”

So here are a few thoughts from Quinn on each of the Big Four, including D-men in Fabbro and McAvoy that have attracted the eyes of the Bruins in a very big way:

*The creative and skilled playmaking center Clayton Keller, who lists Patrick Kane as the player he models his game after: “He’s very dynamic. He’s a guy that can really create offense off the initial rush. When he has the puck, good things always happen. He’s got elite vision, elite skill set and he’s competitive. He’s a guy that obviously needs to get a little bigger and stronger, but he’s got a swagger about him. All great players have a swagger. I know he elevates everybody’s game when he’s out there, and he’s a special talent.”

*The deadly sniper Kieffer Bellows, who hopes to follow in his father Brian’s footsteps at the NHL level someday: “When everybody talks about Kieffer they talk about his shot and his goal-scoring ability, and rightfully so. He’s got an NHL shot right now. He’s a true goal-scorer that likes to get the net, and knows where he wants to go. Not only does he know where to go, but he knows how to take advantage of his opportunities. But the thing that I really like about Kieffer is that he’s continued to improve as a player, and he’s much more than a shooter. He’s a guy that sees the ice well, and he’s smart. Sometimes when you’re really good at one thing people kind of think you’re a one-trick pony. There are a lot of other elements in his game to like. His skating continues to improve, he’s competitive and tough…and scoring goals isn’t easy in this day and age. Sometimes he makes it look easy.”

*The steady, heady Dante Fabbro, who plays in all situations and is extremely adept at moving the puck: “He’s a guy that can really control a game. He’s got a patience about him, and he’s got a confidence about him. He’s very competitive, and he doesn’t waste a lot of energy. He’s a great power play player. He makes great outlet passes, and has a real mature game already at his age. I really think the sky is the limit for him.”

*The speedy Charlie McAvoy, who was arguably BU’s best defenseman last season as the youngest player in college hockey: “The thing that impressed me the most is how he handled the physical aspect of college hockey. He was the youngest kid in college hockey and played half the season as a 17-year-old going up against 22, 23 and 24-year old kids. A lot of kids come into college hockey and have good seasons statistically, but can get physically overwhelmed at that level. That didn’t happen with Charlie at all. A lot of times he’d go in one-on-one with guys six or seven years older than him, and he’d win the battle. That says an awful lot about him as a player. You add that to his skating ability, his vision and his hockey sense, and he’s put himself in position to be a top-10 draft pick.”

Remember, keep shooting the puck at the net and good things are bound to happen.

Joe Haggerty can be followed on Twitter: @HacksWithHaggs

Haggerty: Bruins need to close on a D-man this weekend

Haggerty: Bruins need to close on a D-man this weekend

BUFFALO – Don Sweeney’s mission for this weekend, should he choose to accept it, is to come away with a top-four defenseman capable of transitioning the puck for a Bruins team badly in need of that exact kind of impact player.

But it’s not just about simply acquiring the established blueliner that will add legitimacy to the team’s woebegone back end, and perhaps finally stabilize a group that was routinely substandard last season. It’s also about Sweeney and the Bruins pulling it off without compromising the Black and Gold’s long-term future any more than management has already done with some ill-advised moves over the past year.

That will be the tricky part as other NHL suitors queue up to start the bidding for puck-movers such as Kevin Shattenkirk and Cam Fowler. A source with knowledge of the situation told CSNNE.com on Friday morning that “there’s a very good chance [Shattenkirk] is a Bruin, Ranger or Flyer” when next season opens in October.

Of course, Shattenkirk, 27, will also be looking at a seven-year deal worth $7.5 million per season if Bruins want to hold onto the All-Star defenseman beyond 2016-17, after the Panthers signed Keith Yandle to a massive $44.5 million contract this week.

The big question for this weekend is at what cost Shattenkirk will be delivered?

Will the Bruins be pushed into giving up the 14th overall pick in the first round and potentially deal away the chance to draft Dante Fabbro or Charlie McAvoy, who could both be a Shattenkirk-level All-Star defenseman within the next three years?

“I think Fabbro is exactly the same as Shattenkirk was at this stage in his development,” said one talent evaluator for a Western Conference team. “He can move the puck, he makes decisions quickly and there’s a certain smoothness to his game that’s very similar. He’s going to be a very good defenseman in the NHL someday.”

Sources with knowledge of the situation were skeptical that the 29th overall pick in the first round would be enough, along with a young forward, to get the deal done with St. Louis for Shattenkirk. But Sweeney would also be wise to hold to that stance and fight the temptation to deal away a draft pick that will get the Bruins a good, young player ready to contribute within a couple of years.

“There are two sides to it. You have to look at what the cost may be relative to the situation that we’re in. We have two first round picks, so I’m exploring all opportunities with them. I feel very good about making two selections if that’s the direction we go because acquisitions costs are too high,” said Sweeney, who said it would have to be a “very substantial” player to get the Bruins to make the 14th overall pick. “Then we’d go back into the UFA market if needed. We’re pursuing all of it. We’re not going to stop. It’s just a matter of whether or not the line for buying into some players is too punitive to wade into.”

There’s also the problem that GMs with young, restricted free agent defensemen like Jacob Trouba will be demanding that the Bruins part with David Pastrnak or Frank Vatrano, and that’s if the Bruins aren’t already outbid with names like Matt Duchene and Taylor Hall swirling around as potentially available for trade. That’s the difficult neighborhood Sweeney is traversing through this weekend amid a gauntlet of greedy, opposing GMs and it doesn’t allow for any more flubs from the B’s front office.

“The forecasting part of the business is difficult, obviously. Whether or not you take a player [in the draft] that in two or three years will be ready, or maybe not,” said Sweeney. “I’ve used Kyle McLaren a long time ago as a guy that walked through the door [to NHL training camp] and surprised everybody. So, we get excited whether it’s Brandon Carlo, Robbie O’Gara or Matt Grzelcyk. Those are going to be good pieces for our organization, but it’s up to each individual player as to when they’re going to be ready to play.

“But it’s delicate when you look at what that player is bringing to the table in reference to trading the 14th pick overall and the impact of whether that player is going to be around and part of what we’re trying to do now, and moving forward. We want to be a competitive team that has an opportunity to win each and every year, and then certain times when the window is there then you may tip the scales [to the short term] a little bit. But until you get there [from a competitive standpoint] then I think you have to be patient. My job is to build the best hockey team that I can possibly build for this year, and for moving forward. We have to be committed to the overall process. Being a competitive team that’s in a position to be in a playoff race, and win, is the only goal we have. But I’m not going to leverage it to the point where we’re just chasing it all the time.”

It will help that the Bruins have young defensemen like Carlo, O’Gara and Grzelcyk on the way, and that Sweeney believes they can perhaps contribute at some point next season, or certainly in 2017-18 after a year of AHL development. The question is whether both Sweeney and Bruins President Cam Neely will be able to see through those players’ development arcs if the Bruins again fails to make the playoffs for a third straight season.

The Bruins GM can’t afford another miscalculation sending a third-round pick to Philadelphia for Zac Rinaldo, who might never play another game in the NHL again. He can’t take pennies on the dollar like he did last season in a rash, rushed Dougie Hamilton trade that undoubtedly has the 29 other NHL GMs feeling like they can swindle the Bruins when push comes to shove.

One thing that’s a positive for the Bruins, however:  Sweeney still feels like there are multiple targets that will yield the B’s a quality NHL defenseman as soon as this weekend. With Sami Vatanen signing in Anaheim and both Alex Goligoski and Yandle signing long term deals with Arizona and Florida, one might think that the D-man supply was running a little thin.

But Sweeney is having multiple conversations with a number of teams, and even hinted that some names are in play that haven’t been widely circulated in the usual NHL rumor mills. This is where names such as Dmitry Kulikov fit into the equation if the Bruins are beaten to the punch for both Shattenkirk and Fowler.

“There’s supply everywhere. I’ve had discussions with multiple teams about players, and you might not even necessarily know that they’re available,” said Sweeney. “It’s just a matter of how it all lines up. We have targets and we have players that we think will improve our hockey club.

“There are plenty of them still available. Whether or not they land, I can’t sit here and tell you with absolute certainty that one is coming our way. But we’re in talks with several teams to see. But I’m not going to chase it because I think our younger players are going to push. But we’ll look to improve in every way, shape or form that we can.”

The Bruins have talked a great deal over the last year about improving their back end, but this weekend is the time when they need measured, prudent action more than the optimistic, hopeful words.

Friday, June 24: Looking back at 10 goalies drafted in top 10

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Friday, June 24: Looking back at 10 goalies drafted in top 10

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while wondering if Guerschon Yabusele is a member of House Baratheon, or the True Warden of the North?

*A look at the past 10 goaltenders drafted in the top 10 of the NHL draft, including the immortal Rick DiPietro.

*Some of the “other” NHL Awards that were handed out a couple of nights ago courtesy of Barstool Sports.

*Jim Benning said a lot yesterday, including that the Canucks have interest in Milan Lucic and that he called Montreal about P.K. Subban.

*Charlie McAvoy talks about the NHL draft process as part of a piece for the Players Tribune headed into this weekend.

*Speaking of Subban, is he the true target for Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli during this week leading up to free agency?

*The fans, and some of the media, are upset about Erik Karlsson losing out to Drew Doughty in the Norris Trophy voting. One man’s opinion: if Karlsson was the best defensemen in the league last season then the Senators probably would have made the playoffs.

*The Islanders need to provide some help for John Tavares whether they keep the No. 19 pick or trade it for players to help them now.

*Mike Harrington got some thoughts from Evander Kane and Jack Eichel on the excitement surrounding the Sabres, and more of the moves made to improve them this summer.

*You don’t read about an NHL draft prospect surviving a meteor strike every day, do you? Here’s an interesting piece on Vitaly Abramov.

*For something completely different: I don’t think anybody cares whether Ben Affleck was buzzed or not when he ripped into the NFL over Deflategate. We’re just glad he did it. Side memo to Deadspin: stop trying to make “Ballghazi” happen. It’s just not.