BostonBruins.com -- February in Boston means the Beanpot Tourney, and this year’s 62nd annual championship game at TD Garden featured several freshmen and Boston Bruins futures.
Boston College forward Ryan Fitzgerald faced defender Matt Benning and the rest of a rising Northeastern squad, which gave the powerhouse Eagles all they could handle in a game that went down to the wire before BC pulled away late. In fact, the 4-1 final score was not indicative of how truly close the game was, as the Huskies threatened overtime before two quick strikes put the pesky bunch from Huntington Ave. away. For Fitzgerald, it was his first Beanpot Trophy (and the team’s fifth consecutive February triumph) and the Eagles could lay claim to Boston college hockey supremacy for some time to come.
NU has built a versatile, gritty bunch that includes the freshman Benning, who also happens to be B’s assistant GM Jim Benning’s nephew. The sixth-round draft choice from 2012 is an Alberta native who came to Boston after a championship season with the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints.
Although Benning does not possess ideal height for the modern NHL, he has a thick build and plays a rugged, physical style. He may not have many standout tools, but he is the epitome of a Boston Bruins type player: he skates well, thinks the game at a high level, has an active stick with strong gap control, and brings a pugnacious temperament with him to each shift. In short, Benning plays bigger than his modest size and has the NHL pedigree inherited from his father, Brian Benning (568 career big league games) and uncle (610). In an organization that can afford to be take the time to fully develop its prospects, Benning looks like a solid option to be a middle or bottom-pair on defense after NCAA and AHL seasoning.
Fitzgerald has been a revelation as an impact freshman, validating his reputation in New England circles as one of the area’s top local hockey talents in producing at nearly a point-per-game clip for Jerry York’s club.
After returning from Sweden upon competing in the World Jr. Championship tournament early last month, Boston University d-man Matt Grzelcyk suffered an injury, costing him the remainder of the 2013-14 season. The loss made a difficult season for the Terriers even tougher, as Grzelcyk’s speed and skill is clearly missed. He did not skate in BU’s first-round Beanpot loss to archrival BC, and his absence is acutely felt by the rest of his teammates, who will relish his return to action next fall.
Hotchkiss defenseman and Boston 2013 fifth-round pick Wiley Sherman will join the Beanpot tradition when he arrives in Cambridge in the fall. The Bearcats’ captain is a huge (6-foot-6), mobile, shutdown defender who plays a simple, yet effective game. Sherman is raw and lacks a natural snarl to his style, but with his fluid skating, smarts, and long reach, opponents have a difficult time getting around him. He’ll likely become a staple on Harvard’s blue line from the get-go, and will provide the B’s the benefit of developing right in their backyard under the watchful eye of another former Crimson rearguard who played more than 1,000 NHL games with the Black and Gold.
Bruins Prospect Snapshot:
Ryan Fitzgerald, C Boston College (Hockey East)
Scouting Report: Although his smallish frame and lack of explosiveness might have deterred some NHL teams from taking him in the top-100 at the last draft, Fitzgerald’s immediate impact in the NCAA owes much to his sheer talent, drive, and elite hockey IQ. A scrappy, tenacious presence despite the lack of ideal size, Fitzgerald is strong on his skates, with the slick agility and elusiveness that allows him to slip checks and maintain puck possession. His vision and offensive instincts are elite: he processes the play instantly and reacts much faster than the vast majority of his opponents, often making passes or breaking into open ice with a step on defenders. He has a quick stick that makes him dangerous on draws and underrated shot that he could stand to unleash more. A deft playmaker who can thread the needle and isn’t afraid to take the hit to make the play, Fitzgerald is also a responsible three-zone forward who demands a great deal of himself. On track for a 30-point first year at BC, that bodes well for a productive NCAA career as he gains experience and earns a more prominent role going forward.
Outlook: The North Reading native and son of former Bruins forward and current Penguins front office member Tom Fitzgerald has long been an area hockey star and two-time state champion with the Malden Catholic Lancers. While the fall from a second-round projection for many was a bit surprising, Fitzgerald has done an excellent job of putting whatever disappointment he may have felt in Newark and channeling it into an eye-opening performance with the Eagles. The opportunity to one day play for his hometown Bruins organization, where his uncle Scott Fitzgerald is the assistant amateur scouting director, is something that the 19-year-old has embraced. Watch for Fitzgerald to one day carve out a role for himself as a solid third-line NHL player with offensive upside, with the benefit of not having the pressure of elevated expectations or Boston’s needs at forward weighing him down.
Kirk Luedeke covers the Boston Bruins and NHL prospects for the New England Hockey Journal and is a contributing editor and hockey scout for the Red Line Report. You can follow him on Twitter at: @kluedeke29