It has been a year of rising stock among the Boston Bruins’ NCAA prospects.
Of the 11 Bruins prospects spread throughout college hockey, many have enjoyed career seasons. Nine of those players helped their respective teams to NCAA tournament appearances.
Denver forward Danton Heinen and Northeastern defenseman Matt Benning were key cogs in their respective teams second-half runs that garnered trips to the tournament. Ryan Fitzgerald has been a crucial piece of Boston College’s fourth-ranked offense while Jacob Forsbacka Karlsson and Matt Grzelcyk helped bring 2015 national runner-up Boston University back to the tourney, its first back-to-back tournament appearance since making it three years in a row from 2005-07.
Rob O’Gara helped Yale to its sixth NCAA appearance in eight seasons.
Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, F, Boston University (Hockey East)
Drafted: 2nd round, 45th overall, 2015
Boston University captain and Bruins defensive prospect Matt Grzelcyk coined Forsbacka Karlsson to be “Patrice Bergeron 2.0.” Grzelcyk’s designation couldn’t have been a better description of the player the BU freshman is: a strong two-way center with an uncanny ability to make the players around him better.
Centering BU’s top line for much of the 2015-16 season, Forsbacka Karlsson was one of the top freshmen in the country. The 19 year old was named to the Hockey East All-Rookie team after posting 30 points (10-20) in 39 games for BU. Danny O’Regan (SJ) (17 goals) and Ahti Oksansen (15) combined for 32 goals to lead the Terriers. Forsbacka Karlsson assisted on 14 of those tallies.
Mature beyond his years with his all-around play in the three zones, there’s speculation that Forsbacka Karlsson could be a one-and-done in the collegiate circuit.
Ryan Fitzgerald, C, Boston College (Hockey East)
Drafted: 4th round, 120th overall, 2012
The son of former NHLer Tom Fitzgerald, the BC junior has enjoyed by far his best season at The Heights, with 23 goals and 46 points in 39 games as BC advanced to its 12th Frozen Four since 1998. He entered the season with 30 goals and 54 points in 78 games in his first two seasons at BC. Fitzgerald has skated alongside 2015 Senators first round pick Colin White to create a fast, skilled one-two punch atop the potent Eagles forward corps that includes NHL prospects Zach Sanford (WSH), Alex Tuch (MIN), Miles Wood (NJD) JD Dudek (NJD) and Adam Gilmour (MIN).
A small but skilled forward, Fitzgerald is realizing his potential on what has been the best team he’s been on during his three years at BC. His discipline (47 penalty minutes) remains a concern, but the minutes (1.2 per game) are a tick down from last season (54 in 38, 1.4 per game).
Danton Heinen, F, Denver University (NCHC)
Drafted: 4th round, 116th overall, 2014
While a great two-way player, Heinen’s calling card is his ability to find the net and produce offense. After struggling in the first half of the season, the sophomore had points in 18 straight games as Denver reached the Frozen Four for the first time since 2005.
Over the 18-game point streak, Heinen had 14 goals and 34 points skating alongside Dylan Gambrell and Trevor Moore. The Poineers (25-9-6) went 15-2-1 over that span.
Matt Grzelcyk, D, Boston University (Hockey East)
Drafted: 3rd round, 85th overall 2012.
Grzelcyk signed an entry-level contract with the Bruins earlier this month after four years at BU. A skilled, mobile defenseman, Grzelcyk’s greatest attribute is his leadership qualities and ability to make guys around him better.
A two-time All-American, Grzelcyk played a key role in the Terriers run to the national championship game in 2015. In addition to his lack of size, the 22-year-old has an injury history. While he played all 41 games his junior season, he missed a combined 28 games (of 74) his sophomore and senior seasons due to knee and shoulder injuries.
Rob O’Gara, D, Yale (ECAC)
Drafted: 5th round, 151st overall, 2011
O’Gara’s offensive numbers are down from his 2014-15 campaign in which he led Yale’s blue line corps with 21 points, with just 12 in 30 games as the Bulldogs went to the NCAA tournament for the third time in four years. That said, the 6-foot-4, two-way defenseman was the Bulldogs ace on the back line and one of the premier shutdown defensemen in college hockey, which was expected entering his senior season.
O’Gara, whose size and skating strength are his top attributes, has grown on the defensive side of the puck in his senior season. While his offensive numbers have fallen off from last season, his willingness to jump into the rush and make plays with the puck has not. His decision-making regarding when to make the play or sit back looks to have improved.
Johansson is a defenseman with average size (6’0, 194-pounds) but has a good deal of strength and mobility. He had a positive season despite his minutes being limited at times playing on a talent-laden blue line for HV71. Johansson likely opened some eyes with a three goal, five-point performance in six postseason games for HV71, who bowed out in the SHL semifinals.
Johannson continues to show improvement and the 2015-16 season was another step in the right direction. More will have to be seen of him to get a better idea of what the 19-year-old blue liner’s NHL potential will be.
Peter Cehlarik, F, Lulea HF (SHL)
Drafted: 3rd round, 90th overall, 2013
Cehlarik’s play is similar to that of Loui Eriksson, a 6’2 winger who uses his hockey sense to his advantage and makes the players on the ice with him better, even if it doesn’t show on the scoresheet. His 20 points in 46 games for Lulea HF was a career high for the Slovakian forward, who was a plus-10. It was his first plus-season since 2012-13, when he was a plus-nine in 14 games, a performance that likely helped make him a third-round pick in the NHL draft a few months later.
Like Johansson, more will have to be seen of Cehlarik when he comes stateside, but his performance is projecting in the right direction. His hockey sense, size and strength, and net-front presence would make him a great bottom-six asset on a good team.
Prospect of the Month
The story of the college hockey season’s was Northeastern’s thunderous second-half run, going 21-2-3 after a 1-11-2 start to the season en route to winning its first Hockey East title since 1988 and landing in the NCAA Tournament for just the second time since 1994.
Matt Benning’s play was one of the keys of the Huskies’ run, skating alongside Dustin Darou – who returned at the beginning of January from a leg injury – on what was one of college hockey’s premier shutdown defense pairings during the season’s final months. Benning, a rugged blueliner with an ability to move the puck, had six goals and 19 points while playing all 41 games for Northeastern.
The 21 year old defenseman is the son of Vancouver Canucks General Manager Jim Benning. He was taken by Boston in the sixth round of the 2012 draft.
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