Scouting Overseas in Prospects' Home Environment
Assistant GM Don Sweeney offers insight after a scouting trip to Sweden
BostonBruins.com - On a recent visit to Sweden, Assistant General Manager Don Sweeney met with the Bruins’ first pick from the 2013 draft, defenseman Linus Arensson, and his family for coffee in their native country.
It marked a usual occurrence for the Bruins’ scouting staff, who consider player development to be the lifeline of the organization’s depth and ability to sustain a competitive balance from year to year.
Throughout the visit, he was joined by European scouts Sven Svensson and P.J. Axelsson - his “point people” in Sweden.
Once drafting and finding Black & Gold style players, the multi-faceted approach includes plenty of visits and communication with prospects, including trips overseas, especially after the 2013 draft, with Arnesson (second round, 60th) being selected, along with other European players Peter Cehlarik (third, 90th) and Anton Blidh (sixth, 180th).
The staff will watch the trio at the 2014 World Junior Championship in Malmo, Sweden coming up in December and January, but Sweeney wanted to make a journey while the season was still young. Also, Arnesson and Blidh both head to Russia soon to compete for Sweden with hopes of securing Worlds Juniors spots.
“I wanted to make an early trip to see all three prospects play in their home environment and to follow up on their experiences at development camp,” said Sweeney. “They are all new to the Bruins organization and we always want to establish strong lines of communication.”
Though he doesn’t necessarily pinpoint an exact number of trips, he always has Svensson and Axelsson to rely on and continue touching base with the prospects.
So, what exactly did Sweeney and co. take away from their visits with Arnesson, Blidh and Cehlarik?
Arnesson, a smooth skating, two-way defenseman “that can support the offensive rush and gets back quickly to start transition” has been a key member of Djurgardens in the Allsvenskan League in Sweden. The blueliner, who recently celebrated his 19th birthday (Sven bought him a piece of cheesecake!), has also been a member of Sweden’s Under-20 squad.
“Linus is a steady defender who closes on forwards quickly and takes away their time and space to operate,” said Sweeney. “While he continues to add strength and power to his frame, and as he matures, his confidence will grow in battle situations while playing quality minutes for Djurgardens.”
When watching the D-man’s game, the member of the B’s brass was pleased to see such a young player in a reliable role, on the ice killing a penalty in the last minute of a 1-1 game.
“Linus’ GM spoke of his confidence upon returning from the Bruins development camp and he seems to have carried that forward to his team in Sweden as he is making smart decisions on the ice.”
While visiting Linus and his family, Sweeney spoke with them about all of the NHL games he watches online in Sweden. The blueliner’s favorite players to watch? Surefire Hall of Famer Niklas Lidstrom, and fellow countryman, Niklas Hjalmarsson.
“And of course, he sees the replays of a lot of the Bruins games,” said Sweeney. “Because he wants to see how our defensemen use the dot lines to defend, something he heard quite a bit about while in development camp from our coaches Doug Houda and [Providence Bruins Assistant Coach] Kevin Dean.”
The assistant GM also met with Blidh, who started his season on a tear putting up eight goals and six assists in 14 games with his Frolunda HC Junior 20 team in Sweden.
“A high energy player that forechecks hard and is very responsible,” he said. “He blocks shots on the PK and his coaches and teammates love his enthusiasm and aggressive play.”
Blidh has already played with three different teams this season. According to Sweeney, a game recently and then Frolunda loaned him to the first place team in Karlskrona of the Allsvenskan League. There, he picked up First Star in his opening game.
“He was a force on the PK and he blocked a key shot in the last minute to preserve the win against [Peter] Ceharlik’s team, Asploven,” said Sweeney. “Anton doesn’t seem to change his style regardless the team or league he is playing in, but he has more time and opportunity to be creative while playing with his peers.”
“We hope to see Anton earn a spot on the World Junior team where he would likely to be a strong role player and see time on the PK like Dan Paille does for the Bruins.”
While Blidh sees time on the penalty kill, fellow prospect Peter Cehlarik’s vision is often utilized on his team’s power play.
“He skates well and is very dangerous coming through the neutral zone when he gathers speed; he makes good plays on the cycle and the PP,” said Sweeney. “We see Peter continuing to get physically stronger this year as he will play for Slovakia at the World Junior Tournament.”
As we’ve heard General Manager Peter Chiarelli note his hockey sense on numerous occasions, Sweeney expects the “very gifted” forward with high-end puck skills and playmaking ability to continue to create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates.
One aspect he’ll be working on, though, is finishing off his own plays, and not always looking to make the plays to his teammates.
“I spoke with Peter about shooting more and with the purpose to score,” said Sweeney. “He often defers unselfishly to think pass as his first option. He will also need to get better in his puck battles and strength along the walls.”
This season, Cehlarik has bounced back and forth between Lulea in the Swedish Hockey League and Asploven in the Allsvenskan.
“Young players often struggle with consistency as a result but Peter has handled his situation like a pro,” said Sweeney.
With Asploven, he plays in all situations and earned 12 points in his first 15 games with them - a stat line that came as no surprise to Sweeney and the B’s staff, given his talent.
The assistant GM believes the Zilina, Slovakia native will continue to see more games with Lulea in the SHL, but given the fact that he doesn’t play as much as he does with Asploven, his confidence isn’t quiet as high with the elite level team.
But like Arnesson and Blidh, who are also learning to play with stronger, faster players, Sweeney knows the situation will only help aid Cehlarik’s development in the B’s system.
“These are all great learning experiences that will serve Peter well as a developing pro,” he said. “Peter’s point totals will continue to be high when he plays against his peers and when he gets stronger and gains more confidence, his skills will translate to the games he plays with Lulea down the road.”