June 14, 2013

Drafty-worthy 'D': Bruins' second and third-round projections

By Kirk Luedeke

UNH defenseman Brett Pesce might evolve into one of the better draft values in the entire class of 2013. (Photo: UNH Athletic Media Relations)

The 2013 NHL Entry Draft preview series for the Boston Bruins continues with a look at possible selections for the team at the end of the second and third rounds of the draft in Newark, N.J. June 30.

After previously breaking down the center and wing positions, this article drills down on some options on the blue line. While defense is not a pressing need for the B’s, as they have seen their veteran backend bolstered by the play of youngsters Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski, the team can still find value at the position.

A few defensemen who might be on Boston’s list at the end of the second and third rounds are analyzed below, with information gleaned from scouting reports provided by the Red Line Report independent scouting service 2013 Draft Guide and feedback from NHL scout sources.

Linus Arnesson, Djurgarden (Sweden-2) — After missing the 2012 NHL Draft by just six days, much was expected of this poised Swede, who graduated to the pro ranks of the Allsvenskan (second) division. Arnesson is a fine skater with fluid movements and good speed as a 6-foot-1, 190-pounder. He plays an effective defense-first style, with an active stick and strong gap control. However, the hoped-for offensive dimension never emerged, as he finished with a single assist in 31 games. If a team thinks some of the offensive flashes of a year ago are part of the package, he could be a top-60 selection, but if not- watch for him to slide.

The Buzz: “So much disappointment,” said a Western Conference NHL scout recently. “He might have been a top-50 pick in Pittsburgh, but now? I’m not sure. I like his size and mobility, but I do not see a player who can run a power play or score points in the NHL.”

Red Line Report says: “Can keep plays going in the offensive end…But doesn’t make decisions quick enough under pressure and coughs up the puck versus a strong forecheck.

Chris Bigras, Owen Sound (OHL) — Like Justin Bailey in the previous article on possible wingers, the likelihood of this smart puck-moving defender being on the board at the end of the second round is remote. Nonetheless, Bigras is a typical Boston Bruins kind of player in that he brings a great deal of hockey sense and a top-notch attitude and demeanor to the rink with him.

Red Line Report says: “He’s the exact opposite of flashy, so he rarely gets much notice or attention on a deep Owen Sound defense corps. But he’s never out of position, rarely makes mistakes and makes good decisions with and without the puck.”

Michael Brodzinski, Muskegon (USHL) — Minnesota product is more of an offensive defenseman who can really skate and advance the puck at the junior level. He’s fluid and mobile, but lacks the size and elite puck skills to be a top-end player. Nevertheless, there is a lot to like with this player, as he has good smarts in all zones and doesn’t try to do too much.

Red Line Report says: “Oozes confidence, particularly when handling the puck…Skates with his head up looking to make plays, and likes to carry it out of the zone.”

Kyle Burroughs, Regina (WHL) — A possible target in the third round, Burroughs comes from the Andrew Ference/Torey Krug mold. He may not have the size at under 6-feet, but this sparkplug does everything else for you. A superb skater, he also brings an edge and excelled on the power play after injuries to the Pats’ blueline corps forced him to take on much more of an unexpected role. Then-assistant coach and current head coach Malcolm Cameron pushed for Burroughs to have an ‘A’ on his sweater and the youngster justified that with his poise, production and leadership in the second half.

The Buzz: “He had a slow start offensively for us, but I think he jumped 80 or 90 spots in the final (Central Scouting) rankings,” new Regina head coach Malcolm Cameron told New England Hockey Journal last month. “He’s Mr. Everything for us. With the minutes he played…I’d bet it was close to 35 minutes a night. He was just immense. He’ll fight anyone, kills penalties, blocks shots, studies the tendencies of his opponents and his compete levels are off the charts. I hope he grows a little more, but he has a pro mentality and anyone who drafts him will be happy.”

Red Line Report says: “Strong four-way mobility allows him to skate with the puck in space and find teammates on the fly with effective distribution in the offensive zone…At just 5-11/182 pounds, there will be persistent doubters but despite an underdeveloped frame he still plays a physical game and frequently steps up to set an early tone.”

Will Butcher, U.S. NTDP (USHL) — At one time projected as a possible first-round selection in 2013, lack of development over the past two seasons in Ann Arbor has taken some of the luster off his profile. Although he doesn’t have ideal height, Butcher has a thick build and strong center of gravity, which allows him to match up pretty well even against some of the more powerful opponents on the ice. Skating is his best attribute, as he can not only accelerate quickly, but has superior edge control and balance. Good passer, but a wild card at this stage of his development.

Red Line Report says: “Hasn’t grown at all and the skill level isn’t high enough for him to be a PP and offensive finesse guy at the NHL level.”

Michael Downing, Dubuque (USHL) — If you value players with the physical tools and attributes to be effective pro players, then Downing is certainly appealing as a two-way rearguard with some bite. However, when it comes to the hockey sense and instincts to play the position, he’s got some red flags. He’s too much of a free-wheeling, riverboat gambler and could stand to simplify his approach. Still, if a team thinks coaching can improve his overall awareness and self-discipline enough to harness his physical gifts, Downing is an intriguing long-term option, especially when you consider that with Peter Chiarelli’s ties to the Fighting Saints, and the fact that Boston assistant GM Jim Benning’s nephew Matt (B’s sixth-rounder in 2012) played on that USHL championship squad. They’ve gotten plenty of looks at Downing and no doubt spoke at length to former Dubuque coach Jim Montgomery about him.

Red Line Report says: “When he infuses his game with simplicity and an aggressive bite, and relies more on his physical attributes, he can look quite good. But unfortunately, he often strays from that approach and tries to do too much, playing outside his comfort level.”

Dillon Heatherington, Swift Current (WHL) - Good size (6-3, 195 pounds) and strength, but without a hint of dynamism means that this Dub product is pretty much your standard meat-and-potatoes rearguard along the lines of Adam McQuaid. Plays within himself and makes the simple play; skates better laterally than he does in terms of getting up to speed quickly and motoring through the neutral zone. Has improved several areas of his raw, but efficient game to include his decisions. Showcased his newfound poise and confidence in helping Canada to a gold medal at the Under-18 Championship in April.

Red Line Report says: “Defends well against odd-man rushes where he uses a long stick and reach to break up passes…offensively keeps things simple- makes safe plays.”

Gustav Olofsson, Green Bay (USHL) - Another shutdown defender with size (6-foot-3, 185 pounds) who doesn’t bring much in the way of flash or excitement, but is steady, dependable and just might have some room to develop some offense in there down the road. Processes the play effectively and activates at the right time, allowing for the transition game to flourish. Like many in the late second and early third rounds, Olofsson is a project player who will require time and patience, but considering the current state of affairs in the Boston organization, that’s what the team is looking for.

Red Line Report says: “Intelligent stay-at-home defenceman with puck moving abilities kept getting better with every viewing throughout the season.”

Brett Pesce, University of New Hampshire (HEA) - This raw, but rapidly developing defender might evolve into one of the better draft values in the entire class of 2013 if he continues on his upward trajectory. The rangy, 6-foot-3 blueliner has a lot of filling out to do, isn’t overly physical, but uses his size and wingspan to force opponents to the outside and limit quality shooting lanes. Although his stats weren’t much to speak of, he showed an ability to join the rush and could be a late bloomer in terms of his offensive production. He would be a fine value pick for Boston at the end of the second round, but won’t be there in the late third.

The Buzz: “I like Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto as players but I see myself playing a style more similar to Marc Staal and Dan Girardi,” Pesce told New England Hockey Journal earlier in the season. “I think I can help out with moving the puck and bringing some offense, but the strength of my game is in the defensive play and taking care of my own end first. If I do that well, then the rest of it will come.”

Red Line Report says: “Has a great active stick—does a nice job of getting in lanes and poke-checking. Powerful stride covers a lot of ice- good mobility and footwork.”

Jordan Subban, Belleville (OHL) - While you don’t expect the Bruins to play sentimental games to try and corner the market on two thirds of the Subban brothers, the team values blood lines, skating ability and hockey sense, which is what the youngest sibling possesses. With all three coming out of the Bulls organization of the OHL, Subban brings similar traits and attributes to older brother P.K., but will need to add mass to his 5-foot-9, 175-pound frame and fight the urge to do too much on his own. Red Line has him in the late third round, but if the B’s want him, they’d most likely have to grab him at the end of the second.

The Buzz: “(Subban) does have a good amount of his older brother in him, though I don’t find him as edgy as P.K.,” said an NHL scout in the Eastern Conference. “He’s got all the hallmarks of that style…the skating and speed, the vision, the shot—but he’s got some bad habits and is not going to get away with that at the next level. Needs to get stronger and use his teammates better.”

Red Line Report says: “Shows tremendous offensive flair…Does things you can’t teach…Tremendous talent and puckhandler whose first thought is always offence.”

Keaton Thompson, U.S. NTDP (USHL) - This raw, but intriguing defenseman has no shortage of the tools and upside any team wants at the position. He skates well and brings a physical element to his game, too. There are times when the average-sized (6-foot, 185 pounds) Thompson struggled to assert himself as a top performer on the Team USA blue line while other times he was dominant, so he has room to grow.

Red Line Report says: “At his best when playing an aggressive, forceful game and activating in the offensive end."

Twitter: @kluedeke29
Email: kluedeke@hockeyjournal.com