June 27, 2013

Hidden gems? Bruins mid-to-late round draft projections

By Kirk Luedeke

Cole Cassels skated in the All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo last fall. (Getty Images)

The 2013 NHL Entry Draft preview series for the Boston Bruins returns with a look at some possibilities at all positions (except for goaltender) in the mid-to-late rounds in Newark, N.J. June 30.

Players who might be on Boston’s list and currently projected anywhere from rounds 4-7 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.

Blaine Byron, C Smiths Falls (CCHL) None other than Bruins prospect Ryan Spooner first alerted NEHJ to this prospect earlier in the season. Although he possesses average height (5-11) and a slight, 163-pound build, this Jr. B standout and University of Maine recruit brings an excellent offensive skill set to the mix. Byron is an outstanding skater with quick jump, top gear and an even quicker stick. Backs defenders up with his slick inside and outside moves, but because of physical limitations, can float out on the perimeter and not go into heavy traffic at times. Having played at a lower level than in the OHL, he wasn’t as challenged as he’ll be when he moves on to the NCAA and goes up against older, bigger, stronger players. However, there is a lot to like about the offensive upside and given Boston’s ability to be patient, Byron would be a solid draft-and-stash option for about 4-5 years down the road.

Red Line Report says: “Playing Tier II plus getting traded mid-season didn’t help him, but we keep coming back to the fact that he’s got a higher skill level than many more highly rated prospects from around the OHL.”

Cole Cassels, C Oshawa (OHL) Former NHL pivot Andrew Cassels’ son was born in Hartford when his dad was a Whaler, and has exhibited good potential as a two-way forward, even if he didn’t consistently put things together in his draft year.  Some have questioned the motor and work ethic, but he’s got good quickness and a slick stick for making plays, much like his old man. A former OHL first-round pick in 2011, Cassels has yet to justify that level of confidence and might not ever do it. Still, for teams that value NHL bloodlines, he’s not a bad pick to make in the fourth or later rounds.

Red Line Report says: “We’re not sure his desire matches his talent level.”

Peter Cehlarik, LW Lulea (Sweden) Czech native playing in Sweden isn’t the greatest skater, but is a dangerous offensive player because he has soft hands and good vision/instincts on the attack. With his size, shot and offensive upside, Cehlarik has NHL potential but the question right now is where in the draft you take a prospect who is still very much a work in progress. This is not a high-end player, but in the right organization, and with some added quickness to his first few steps, Cehlarik might develop into an interesting prospect.

Red Line Report says: “Tall and lanky with great hands, but feet betrashy him."

Brian Pinho (North Andover, Mass.), C St. John’s Prep (Mass. H.S.) NEHJ favorite and Providence College recruit was taken sixth overall in the USHL Phase II draft by the Indiana Ice. The only thing average about Pinho is his size—does everything else well and brings a highly competitive attitude and work ethic to every situation. An effective playmaker and leader, he’s a versatile center who plays effectively in all zones, even if he may not project as a top-six NHL forward at present. Not all are sold on Pinho largely because of the competition level, but there could be a nice payoff for a team that rolls the dice on him. Slick and creative, no New England-area forward outside of Zach Sanford (Auburn, N.H.) did more to raise his stock from the beginning of the year than Pinho did.

Frank DiChiara, LW Dubuque (USHL) Late ’93 and second-year draft eligible really came into his own after being skipped a year ago. A power forward who tallied 30 goals and 60 points for the Fighting Saints last season, he also scored the Clark Cup-winning overtime goal, so the New Yorker has a flair for the dramatic. His feet are heavy, but he is a powerful skater when he gets up to speed. He doesn’t have a big mean streak, but will initiate contact and willingly goes into traffic and the dirty areas of the ice. Yale recruit is projected as a sixth- or seventh-rounder, but could go as early as the late third or fourth rounds.

Kurt Etchegary, C Quebec (QMJHL) This sparkplug and little ball of hate (5-foot-11, 182 pounds) plays with a lot of intensity and character. Unfortunately, he was on the wrong end of the injury bug a lot this year, which cost scouts extended looks at him. He’s got an underrated scoring profile to go with his grinding, abrasive style of play. A classic more-than-the-sum-of-his-parts player, Etchegary does not look impressive on paper, but gives you every ounce of his talents. His skating stride is awkward-looking, but he generates enough speed and quickness to make plays with sheer hustle and hockey sense. If a team likes this Newfoundland-born pepperpot enough, he might get drafted in the top-90, but that would be a risky selection given the injury history. Watch for him to slide a bit and be a value selection anywhere in the fourth round and beyond.

The Buzz: “He’s probably a bottom-six forward in the NHL, but he gives you some jam and plays bigger than he is,” said an Eastern Conference NHL scout. “He’s fearless, sometimes to his detriment as his notorious fight with Samuel Morin can attest, but he wants to be a player and if he can overcome the injuries, very well could be.”

Red Line Report says: “Good hard, honest player who works his bag off every shift…missed two thirds of the season with injuries or would be a lot higher on our list.”

Mason Geertsen, D Vancouver (WHL) Known more as the guy the Giants acquired from Edmonton in sending David Musil to the Edmonton Oil Kings, this physical defender might only be scratching the surface, though his mobility is what is preventing him from being ranked higher. There isn’t a big upside to Geertsen right now given his limitations and questionable offensive hockey sense, but Adam McQuaid has demonstrated the value in having the tough-as-nails shutdown defenders on the lower part of the rotation. Geertsen is pretty similar to McQuaid coming out of junior in that he’s going to need a lot of work to improve his skating (which McQuaid did), but his natural size (6-foot-4, 205 pounds) and toughness/willingness to stick up for teammates makes him a solid draft option.

Red Line Report says: “Big, intimidating defender understands size is his greatest asset. Punishing open ice hitter closes gaps quickly to inflict pain.”

Steven Harper, LW Erie (OHL) Talented forward with questionable hockey sense played on a bad, bad team in Erie. The former OHL first-rounder in 2011 is a superb skater with a big-time release who may be one of those “missing the toolbox” types of draft projects. His acceleration and speed allow him to generate more than his share of quality scoring chances, but as scouts get more looks at him and debate his effectiveness in all zones as a pro prospect, the questions come up. There is a lot of raw ability and talent to like, but the hockey sense and uneven effort levels, along with the struggles that come from playing on such a poor team make Harper a wild card in this draft.

Ben Harpur, D Guelph (OHL) Huge, toolsy rearguard has a lot to like, but the hockey sense is what keeps him down lists lower than his talent would dictate. Massive, at 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, Harpur will only get stronger as he physically matures and fills out. He has decent speed for his size, but his footwork and transitions are still a work in progress: has trouble with shiftier, more elusive opponents who can get inside position on him or catch him flat-footed at times. A physical presence who uses his big body to staple opponents to the boards or keep the front of his net clear, he also uses his long reach and an active stick to thwart scoring chances. Scouts question the vision and instincts, saying he tries to do too much and gets caught running around. There is some untapped potential in a player like Harpur, but given how raw he is at this stage, any team that drafts him will have the long view in mind.

Red Line Report says: “Like Kate Upton; great body, limited between the ears.”

Roberts Lipsbergs, LW Seattle (OHL) Latvian was ignored a year ago, but came over to North America and made a great case to be drafted in his second go around. Gained nearly 20 pounds of muscle between seasons, and by most reports, the added mass did not affect his speed and quickness. He gained notoriety for his performance at the Under-18 championships a few years back, and while Lipsbergs does not necessarily have a high-end scorer’s upside in the NHL, he plays with passion, energy and opportunism.

Red Line Report says: “An excellent finisher with soft hands and a sniper’s touch around the net, and has shown much more willingness to win races for loose pucks in the corners and get to traffic areas than he did prior to adding the new bulk.”

Eric Locke, C Saginaw (OHL) Locke came on like gangbusters this season with the Spirit after a disappointing 2011-12 season when he started the year as a potential 1st- or 2nd-round selection. Creative and skilled, Locke show’s a pure scorer’s aggression and patience, pouncing on loose pucks in close and finishing off plays. As has been Boston’s M.O. in recent years by taking 2nd, 3rd-year draft eligibles, Locke is a late ’93 birthdate and can therefore play the entire 2013-14 season in the AHL if an NHL club does not return him to junior. He lacks the size (5-foot-9) to excel in the tighter-checking contests and avoids the dirty areas, but has shifty elusiveness, and could raise his profile with more willingness to come off the perimeter and attack the center of the ice.

Red Line Report says: “Elevated his game to an elite level and took over as the unquestioned go-to guy on an overachieving club. Small, but has the skill and smarts to get into and out of corners (usually with the puck) without putting himself in compromising positions."

Nick Paul, LW Brampton (OHL) Raw power forward didn’t get much attention this season because of a lack of numbers, but if you recall the kind of chance the B’s took on Cody Payne (since traded to Dallas as part of the Jaromir Jagr deal) a year ago, Paul might get a look. At 6-foot-2, 202 pounds, he already is ahead of the physical development curve and while his skating isn’t on the higher end right now, he could make significant improvement with dedicated instruction and adding a step or two on his initial burst.

Red Line Report says: “He’s a huge, powerful winger who can use his hands to beat defenders with superior puck-handling skills or beat the hell of out them when he drops the gloves. That’s a rare combination. His club’s restrictive defensive system prevented him from putting up the points that garner attention.”

Kyle Platzer, C London (OHL) Skating under the radar because of the embarrassment of riches in the two-time OHL champion London Knights. Although just 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, Platzer plays with energy and grit, embraces physical contact and doesn’t shy away from the greasy spots in the offensive zone. Platzer lacks elite upside at the NHL level, but is one of those character players the B’s value because he never stops moving his feet and competing. A smart, dedicated player; scouts who watched him a lot appreciate Platzer far more than those unable to get extended viewings, but deserves a draft call at some point.

Quentin Shore, F Denver University (WCHA) Another curious snub from the 2012 NHL Draft, Shore has one older brother in the NHL with Florida (Drew) and another in the Kings’ system (Nick), Shore is coming off a solid 10-goal freshman season with the Pioneers. With good size, quickness, and offensive potential, the 19-year-old may get a good look this time around.  He drives straight to the net and has a sharp release on his shot. And yet, it seems like nobody is talking about this guy. If Shore isn’t drafted, watch for him to evolve into a prized commodity on the free agent market in a few years, but a team would do well to consider a late-round draft flyer on him, too.

Carter Verhaege, C Niagara (OHL) This intriguing centerman finished his season with a flourish, and then helped secure Canada’s first Under-18 gold medal since 2008 when his Ice Dogs were knocked out of the OHL playoffs. His weird skating stride raises eyebrows with NHL scouts, and is a big reason Verhaege has not garnered more attention. However, he competes hard and plays a solid two-way game. He wasn’t a standout on Team Canada in Sochi, but filled an effective role for depth that overpowered the opposition. If he can improve his legs, Verhaege has some intriguing long-term potential, but is still very much a long ways off.

Red Line Report says: “Sneaky and subtle…Smart around the net and plays a responsibledefensive game. Much better speed than we initially thought with increased leg strength.”

Jaimen Yakubowski, LW Lethbridge (WHL) Passed up a year ago, this prototypical Boston Bruin is undersized at 5-foot-9, but plays the game like a Tasmanian devil, having added significant strength to his compact, bowling ball-like build. Scored goals and fought this season for the Hurricanes…A lot. This lower line project player may lack the height and reach to prevail against the heavyweights, but those limitations don’t stop him from turning down every invitation to dance. Yakubowski is an effective hitter who finishes every check and won’t back down from anyone. Of course the Bruins already have a similar player in Anthony Camara in the system, but there’s always room for more of this type of agitator and grinder hybrid with a little scoring touch.

Red Line Report says: “Relishes any chance to get his hands dirty, and always takes the most direct route to the crease. Once he arrives at net he has a compact release and quick hands that he used to score 32 goals. And did we mention that he had 15 fighting majors?”

Twitter: @kluedeke29
Email: kluedeke@hockeyjournal.com