Bruins

Bruins find a keeper in Steve Kampfer

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Bruins find a keeper in Steve Kampfer

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON You hear the same thing over and over again in pro sports.

Its like acatchy song chorus when the topic of conversation turns to the lifeblood of professional sports teams.

Throwing money at a superstar or two can certainly give any squad an immediate booster shot, but its drafting and developing young players that build and sustain the most successful organizations in any of the four major sports.

Its drafting and development, and its nearly always in that order. Drafting and development all the time.There may be no more difficult accomplishment in the NHL than drafting, developing, cultivating and ultimately producing the mythic puck-moving defenseman. The Bruins have drafted several defensemen over the last few years, but none of them were ready to contribute significantly headed into this season.

Creative puck-movers are always at a premium in an NHL that chews up and spits out blueliners no matter how big, fast, brave, tough and confident they are.

The Bs, in particular, needed somebody skilled in the art of moving the puckto step into the Boston breach of puck-transitioning defenseman after Dennis Wideman was dealt away toFloridafor Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell last summer.

Potential prospects like Matt Lashoff and Jonathan Sigalet never panned out or were traded away. Yuri Alexandrov is just getting his feet wet in the North American game. Andrew Bodnarchuk doesnt appear to be an impact player. Tommy Cross is still finishing up at Boston College. German defenseman Dennis Ruel wasa miss as a fifth-rounder in the 2007 draft.

Armed with the realistic scenario that the Bruins didnt have many young defensemen in the immediate pipeline -- and in need of an infusion of defense talent -- the Bruins front office and scouting department went off script for a solution.

The hunt is on
College scouting director John Weisbrod and Bruins Director of Hockey Administrationcollege scout Ryan Nadeau spent long hours out on the road watching college hockey games across the country, and were charged with tracking many of the young draft-eligible prospects playing NCAA hockey.

Its really a testament to the organizational outlook on things. General manager Peter Chiarellis impetus was really to make sure we were casting the net as wide as we could in the college world, said Bruins assistant general manager Don Sweeney. He put John Weisbrod and Ryan Nadeau in charge of it, and theyre identifying talent all the time.

Weisbrod also kept his eye on other teams draft property while watching draft-eligible players and potential free-agent bargains. Weisbrod began bugging Chiarelli and assistant general managers Sweeney and Jim Benning about other teams draft picks that forced their way onto his radar.

The Bruins front-office execs have come to welcome that bugging, as its begun to bear fruit at the NHL level.

Weisbrod spotted a couple of college defense prospects that he salivated over from a scouting perspective last season: University of Michigan blueliner Steve Kampfer and Ohio State defenseman Matt Bartkowski.

Weisbrod was at a University of Michigan game last season tracking several potential free-agent prospects, but he instead came away raving about the feisty, skilled Kampfer.

The first time I saw him, I was kind of blown away, said Weisbrod of the 5-foot-10, 188-pounder. Even though he was a little undersized for an NHL defenseman and didnt fit the prototype so to speak, what stood out to me was that he was a great skater.

Not so much his straight-line speed, but his agility and ability to change direction really quickly with his skating. Thats something thats obviously very important to make the jump to the NHL and more than anything he was wildly competitive. He was a mature competitor. He didnt take any short cuts, and he really just competed and played at a really high pace.

Both were the property of other NHL teams, but Weisbrod made note of bothKampfer and Bartkowskiif they ever became available via trade or free agency.Last March, they did. The Bruins acquired Kampfer from Anaheim for a fourth-round draft choice. Bartkowski was part of the trade that brought Dennis Seidenberg to Boston from the Florida Panthers.
The success in dealing for NCAA draft picks like Kampfer and Bartkowski has sinceemboldened the Bruins to continue mining that resource, and this season the Bs also picked up BU defensemen David Warsofsky and Colby Cohen in trading away Vladimir Sobotka and Matt Hunwick.

The thing now in defensemen, at least to me, is that everybody notices when a guy can skate straight ahead with the puck and lead the rush. But with the rules the way they are now in the NHL where you cant clutch and grab, youve got to have the agility to keep yourself in front of people defensively, said Weisbrod. Because of how fast and quick people are now in the league, a lot of defensemen get weeded outby their skating and agility and their inability to keep themselves in front of people where they have to hook and hold or do something that gets them a penalty.

The big thing about Kampfer is that hes always had very lively feet, and he could keep himself in front of even the most skilled players at the college level. He could move with them. When you combine that with his competitiveness and the mean streak he had in college, even if he was a bit undersized those two attributes were going to take him a long way.

The Bs college scouting eyes and ears still remembers exactly what caught thateye in a game Kampfer wont soon ever forget for all the wrong reasons.

Well let Weisbrod tell the story.

I was at sort of an infamous game where they played Michigan State. Michigan State had a high draft pick in a big, physical, tough forward named Andrew Conboy as a freshman, and he was sort of an enforcer and a rugged player, said the Bruins scout. Kampfer was in his face all night long competing and battling, and Conboy was 6-foot-3. By the end of the game he had driven Conboy so crazy that the kid sort of went berserk, and speared Kampfer in the midsection and looked like he really hurt him.

It caused a mini-riot in the rink and consequently Conboy got kicked out of Michigan State because it was such a gross infraction. My point being: Look at this little 5-foot-11 defenseman and this big 6-foot-3 goon, and he just made it his business to agitate him, compete with him and stay in his face all night until the other guy just snapped. He has that ability to get under peoples skin with his competitiveness. Obviously things sort out a little differently as a pro, but now that willingness to battle is allowing him to hold his own at the NHL level.

Landing their prize
In theory and in follow-through, the acquisition of Kampfer became a true example of the entire Bruins front office working together from beginning to end. Kampfer popped up on the radar of Weisbrod in the first place. Sweeney and Benning both followed up after they reached a consensus of interest, and then Chiarelli found a way to acquire the targeted player from Anaheim.

Developing Kampfer was really a team process, said Sweeney. A lot us saw him early on in his career at Michigan and he was kind of a wild child and loose cannon on the ice. As everybody went along we just kept seeing him get better and better.

John Weisbrod and Ryan Nadeau both saw that progression, and then Benning and Chiarelli got involved. We all sort of agreed that Kampfer looked like he was going to be an NHL player, and when he came into Providence he looked very comfortable with his puck movement. Thats not something that you see very often in a young player even after four years of college hockey. He processes the game very well. I was in Providence for that first game, and I remember sending a message to Peter during the game that this kid is an NHL player. I just felt in my bones that he was going to be able to play.

One of Chiarellis biggest strengths as a general manager is the intelligence and wisdom to listen to his entire staff and gain consensus, and thats exactly what made it possible to retool their organizational depth on defense.

The trade for Kampfer at least years trade deadline wasnt a heralded move, given the youngsters relative anonymity in the NHL world and Bostons NHL need at the timefor scoring up-front. But Chiarelli,Sweeney, Benning, Weisbrod and Co. knew the Bruins had something to work with.

Kampfer also admitted there was little chance he was going to sign with the Ducks given their depth situation at the defensemen position, so the trade allowed the Bruins to take the other 28 teams out of the equation in a potential free agent bidding war situation last summer.

His size, his status as a fifth-round pick and the fact he suffered a broken neck during his sophomore year of college all served as potential detractors on a surface look at Kampfers game, but that never deterred the Bruins once theyd made their decision.

Once both Kampfer and Bartkowski became members of the Bruins organization, it was simply up to them to live up to everything Weisbrod had pennedin his multiple reports on each of them. Theyve both done that while making their NHL debuts this season, and Kampfer has truly blossomed as something rare and precious within the Bs organization: a true puck-moving defenseman that could very well be the key to their playoff fate.

An impact player
Kampfer has four goals and four assists in 24 games prior to the All-Star break, but his value goes beyond the numbers. Hes been the rare rookie thats almost immediately earned the confidence of the coaching staff, and hes averaging more than 18 minutes of ice time per night while logging big power play minutes.

Where the Bruins had big time bluelinequestions after trading both Wideman and Matt Hunwick, Kampfer was been the answer in the 24 games since his arrival. He was called up to the Bruins as a22-year-old rookie on an emergency basis when Mark Stuart broken his hand, and he doesnt appear destined for that return trip to Providence.

Kampfers skating speed, his agility that allows him to sidestep forecheckers, his vision on the ice while making the entry pass or finding seams in the defense, and his tenacity have already made him a component among the blueline corps that the Bruins cant live without."He's really good at seeing the ice and moving the puck along with some speed. He really seems to be learning and picking things up every game," said Zdeno Chara of Kampfer, his 'D' partner since he arrived in Boston. "He's playing extremely well. He's a smart guy and he's very calm. You don't see him panic much at all."It's not easy. It's a tough spot. Defense is a position that has so many responsibilities, but that's just the way it is. For a guy like him to come in from a place where he was only playing 40 or 50 games max and jumping to a much heavier NHLschedule -- probably the toughest challenge he's ever had to face -- he's doing well. But even for me as a 33-year-old player, I'm still learning all the time and noticing things about different players. You always have to be on your toes. You can't be comfortable even if you've been in the league for 13 or 14 years."

Kampfers seamless transition to the NHL is equal parts God-given hockey ability and the development system that the Bruins set in place to nurture their young hockey talent toward readiness.

I was ecstatic when I got the call from Chiarelli telling him he'd been traded to Boston. Everybody wants to play for an Original Six team and I grew up watching clips of Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque and Cam Neely, said Kampfer. Then you see the guys that are here now, and you think that maybe youll be there in a couple of years.

For me to be here so soon was such a nice surprise. Everyone here wants you to succeed and is here to help you. Its one of those things where you have all the resources, and the entire staff is basically cheering you on. Its all about how well you perform, and that really helps. Playing last year for Butch Cassidy and Rob Murray in Providence gave me a lot of confidence, and seeing them this year at camp really got me on the right foot. Then Matt Hunwick really helped me learn the system this summer. Talking and watching video with Don Sweeney during the rookie camp. All of these little things added up to the organization wanting me to succeed and do well, and they gave me the resources to do it.

The playmaking abilities have been obvious in flashes -- his rush toward the net for a goal late in the Jan. 1 game against the Buffalo Sabres, or the game-winning goal against the Flyers in a 7-5 win on Jan. 13. The steady, heady play between the flashes of brilliance has been even more valuable to the Bs, and the overall improvement by the blueline corps since his arrival has been hard to miss. The Bruins offense has jumped from 2.88 goals per game in 26 games prior to his arrival to 3.17 goals per game in the 24 games since then, and the defensemen have posted 17 goals and 35 assists as a unitin those 24 games with Kampfer.The defense corps has posted a pair of four-goal games -- the first time four different Bruins defensemen scored in the same game and Zdeno Chara's hat trick against Carolina -- and started getting bolder with their pinches right around the time of Kampfer's arrival in December.

I dont know if anybody would have predicted that hed step right into a top-four role and 20-plus minutes a night, but the way he moves the puck and his overall feel for the game gives him a leg up, said Sweeney, who spends a good portionof his time helping to develop these youngsters with his prospect development camps each summer. He obviously has good skating ability to move station-to-station or get up the ice to start moving the puck in transition. I think thats obviously a big part of his game.

I would say the teams need and Kampfers skills lined up pretty well when he was called up. Lets be honest, for all of the negative media slants and fan reaction, at times weve missed Dennis Wideman, who was a good puck transition guy and a good power-play guy. Steve has stepped in and really replaced that in a lot of ways.

What's in store
The biggest question that Kampfer needs to answer will arrive starting tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes. With the games ratcheting up in intensity before hitting a fever pitch once the playoffs begin, surviving and thriving is going to become a lot more difficult for 22-year-old Kampfer.

Just look at Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang. Hes an All-Star caliber defenseman now, but he wasalso scratched in a run to the Stanley Cup three two years ago when the action got too heavy for him. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma went withsteady veteranDaryl Sydor in place of Letang during the Stanley Cup finals despite the rookies offensive contributions during the regular season.

Its certainly possible the same kind of thing could happen with Kampfer during an extended run through the playoffs, but theres been no evidence yet that it will need to happen.

The Bruins cant possibly know how Kampfer is going to react when he becomes more of a physical target as has happened in the last two or three games prior to the All-Star break.

They certainly cant predict what will happen when the playoff bullets start flying.

That is the biggest reason a veteran top-two defenseman with puck-moving abilities and power play quarterback experience is the No. 1 item on Bostons trade deadline shopping list with quality veterans like Sergei Gonchar, Tomas Kaberle and Joni Pitkanen all potentially available.

But the Bruins are careful not to rule out Kampfer raising his level of play as the pressure mounts. Theyve scouted and observed the young player enough to know that he doesnt back down and doesnt give an inch in competitive situations, and thats as much a part of his hockey DNA as the shiny offensive skills he brings to the table.

Obviously as Kampfer goes around the league and plays every team, theyre going to get a book on him just like a goaltender, said Sweeney. They might trap him a little more and see if he can keep picking apart teams consistently. They might also put him in battle situations realizing they can test his strength and ability to keep containment in cycle situations. They might chip it by him and take away his mobility, and get it on him that way.

Hes got to understand that its an evolving process as he goes around the league, and during things like the playoffs -- where the action gets faster and faster hes going to have to continue making those adjustments. But all that being said, hes done a good job so far. I have a firm belief hes going to continue that, but those are going to be challenges. Hes played to his strengths so far, and he just needs to continue recognizing any weaknesses that other teams are going to try and exploit.

No matter what happens down the stretch with Kampfer this season, the Bruins know they have a keeper at the defensemen position. Each time the 22-year-old takes the ice its a win for the youngster in his first NHL experience and a victory for an organization that did everything right in pulling off the toughest trick in hockey: uncovering and developing a young puck-moving defenseman in the harsh, punishing NHL world.

Kampfer is a keeper in every sense of the word, and the Bruins were far ahead of the curve on that one.

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

Familiar faces get the best of the Bruins in Vegas

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Familiar faces get the best of the Bruins in Vegas

LAS VEGAS, Nevada – Perhaps part of the confused look from the Boston Bruins on the ice Sunday night in Las Vegas was a nagging feeling of déjà vu they never could shake. The Vegas Golden Knights took a 3-1 win over the Bruins for their fourth win in five tries this season, and handed the Bruins their third truly dreadful-looking defeat in five games played on the young hockey season.

It was tough to avoid the feeling that the Golden Knights were basically “Boston Bruins West”, and that was never too far away from notice as things played out on Sunday. Old friend and former Bruins play-by-play man Dave Goucher and ex-B's defenseman "Sheriff" Shane Hnidy are the friendly faces on the Vegas TV telecast, and were on the Jumbotron pregame in a skit with Carrot Top, of all people, to run down the arena's safety rules in a funny and well-produced video.

Former Bruins PR guru and Beverly native Eric Tosi is in charge of the media relations with the Golden Knights, and has been a busy, busy man along with the rest of the Vegas franchise getting the expansion club off the ground. He was even busier this past weekend, albeit with a relaxed smile on his face, as 20 members of the Tosi clan made the road trip out to Vegas to see the first NHL game between the two franchises.

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And there were the actual familiar faces on the ice with ex-Bruins Malcolm Subban and Colin Miller excelling against their old team. Subban only needed to stop 21 shots in the victory, but was able to finish his first NHL start and earn his first career NHL win against the Bruins franchise that left him unprotected on waivers just a couple of weeks ago.

The Bruins didn’t make the 23-year-old Subban sweat much during the game with pedestrian shots that hit the first-round pick squarely in the jersey crest, and pretty much zero attempts to beat his questionable glove hand.

"We know Malcolm well," said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. "He's a good first-shot goaltender for the most part. We wanted to put some stress on him and make him uncomfortable on those second ones, and I don't think we did a good job on that."

But give Subban credit for calming down his mental approach and refining his technique enough to play solid positional goaltending against the Bruins, and gaining some sweet revenge in the process.

Subban wasn’t gloating about it or basking in any kind of vengeance against his former team, but instead just expressed happiness at doing the job after stepping in for the injured Marc-Andre Fleury. It remains to be seen if Subban is going to be able to hold down the fort against the teams that will inevitably test him more than the hapless Bruins did, but he gave his team a good chance to win on Sunday.

"It's a great feeling. I made a lot of friends [in Boston], played with a lot of great teammates and (had) a great coaching staff. I'm just happy to get the win. The biggest thing was just not thinking, staying focused, and staying in the moment. It feels really good to get the first win in your first game," said Subban, "My first shot I got good control on it and that got me in the game a lot. You never know how the game is going to go in the NHL. It’s really technical. Sometimes you don’t get a lot of shots, so you gotta stay focused, and I felt I did that tonight.

“I thought I played pretty good. The biggest thing was my depth and not getting too deep in the net. Give myself the better opportunity to make the save. I feel like I did that (Sunday). There weren’t too many high chances. [There were] a lot of textbook saves and just having good rebound control. I’m happy to get the win.”

Miller didn’t factor into the scoring for the Golden Knights against the Bruins, but he was extremely active with three shots on net and eight shot attempts in 18:25 of ice time. He got plenty of power play time, was a plus player and looks like he might get the chance to develop his game in Vegas that hadn’t quite played out over the previous couple of years in Boston.

The Bruins won’t return to Vegas until next season, but the hope has to be those same Golden Knights’ familiar faces won’t get the best of the B’s when they come for their one-and-only visit to TD Garden at the beginning of November.

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Only five games into season, Bruins already sending off bad vibes

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Only five games into season, Bruins already sending off bad vibes

LAS VEGAS -- Even though it's only five games into a new regular season, it feels like the Bruins are in danger of going off the tracks.

They finished their three-game Western road swing Sunday with an aimless 3-1 loss to the expansion Golden Knights, which came on the heels of a wretched defeat in Colorado and a victory over the winless Coyotes. Sunday was particularly disheartening, as they never tested their ex-goalie, Malcolm Subban, putting only 21 mostly harmless shots on net against a player they gave away on waivers just a few weeks ago,

They may only have three losses in five games, but it sure feels like there's trouble starting to brew in Bruins land.

“It could be a lot of different things,” said Brad Marchand about the loss to Las Vegas. "We may not have been as mentally prepared for that game as we thought we were. They wanted it more than we did. They out-battled us in a lot of areas and they were the better team. We were making it hard on ourselves. We were trying to do too much with the puck, and not directing enough of the pucks toward the net. You can’t get rebound and you can’t get bodies there if the puck isn’t going there.”

That is a lot of different things. A lot of different problems:

-- They couldn’t fight to get to the front of the net against a rugged Vegas defensive group that was going to make them battle to get there.

-- Once again they had too many passengers along for the ride, with both Ryan Spooner and Frank Vatrano failing to even be a blip on the game’s radar screen. Spooner suffered a lower body injury midway through the game, but while he was out there he was a non-factor once again. 

-- It felt like there was no flow at all to Boston’s game, with breakouts dogged by sloppy passing and players who weren’t hard enough on the puck.

-- When they did get a chance to create something they either missed the net with their shot, or opted not to even take the shot in the first place. 

-- They lost 67 percent of the 57 draws taken during the game, and saw Spooner, Riley Nash and David Krejci and Ryan Spooner go a combined 8-for-29 in the face-off circle.

-- They chased the puck for long stretches and certainly didn’t ever put together anything approaching a consistent, driving pressure in the offensive zone.

Missing stalwart veterans like Patrice Bergeron and David Backes certainly isn’t helping. It makes the Bruins a much smaller group up front that can be pushed around by bigger, stronger defensive units.

But even so, there’s a sense the Bruins can’t consistently bring their 'A' game to the rink with them and don’t seem to have much fight when they fall down by a couple of goals. Trailing by just two goals going into the third period, the Bruins had four shots on net for most of the final period until a late flurry produced a score by David Pastrnak.

Perhaps of more concern, though, is the growing feeling that the Bruins aren’t all on the same page.

Marchand vaguely referenced that the Bruins weren’t prepared to play Sunday, and Tuukka Rask said he’ll no longer comment on anything except his own goaltending. Rask has always been candid and willing to be frank about any shortcomings after Bruins losses, but it appears that’s not something that is any longer welcome inside the B’s dressing room.

“I just try to go out there and give us a chance to win every night. That’s what I’m focused on,” said Rask. “I’m not going to comment anymore on team play that much. We can just talk about goaltending. That’s just the way it is. Sorry.”

Meanwhile, Krejci was similarly short in his postgame thoughts and started talking about avoiding pointing fingers after a frustrating loss.

“There’s no reason to point fingers," he said. "Yeah, we lost a game and it was a frustrating loss. But it’s just the fifth game of the season, so we don’t need to make a big deal out of it. We’re going to back to Boston, we’re going to work hard in practices and we’re going to get ready for the next game.”

Clearly, the fact this stuff is coming to the surface just five games into the season is a cause for concern. But it makes sense, given the way the Bruins are letting an easy portion of the season slip through their fingers.

In their first 10 games of the year, they're facing only one team that made the playoffs last season and they've got plenty of spaced-out stretches in the schedule to get off to a strong, healthy start. Instead they’re losing to subpar teams and highly unproven goalies, and doing so with a real lack of energy or purpose on the ice.

Certainly management would be smart to think about shipping underperforming players like Vatrano back to the AHL in place of Peter Cehlarik or Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson. And a few more games like Sunday’s snooze-fest could advance trade talks for a player like Matt Duchene.

But there aren’t going to be any easy answers. It comes down to hard work and hunkering down together as a team, and Sunday’s pitifully inept loss in a very winnable situation was yet another sign the Bruins aren't even close to being there yet.

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