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Colageo: Boston Bruins Pro Scouts Getting Job Done



Boston Bruins

Parker Wotherspoon cleared waivers on Oct. 4, a week before the Boston Bruins launched their season of centennial celebrations at home against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Would Wotherspoon clear waivers now?

It’s hard to imagine, given how the left-shot defenseman (drafted 112th overall by the N.Y. Islanders in 2015) has proven himself not only by weathering the rigors of NHL competition in elevated roles as leveraged by the absence of various regulars, but in helping the Bruins right their ship against the grind of the long season.

Wotherspoon was given Saturday night off in the name of getting Derek Forbort back in the lineup for his first unfriendly skate since Dec. 3 against Columbus. The seven weeks taking care of a nagging, lower-body injury had left rust, and Boston Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery readily admitted so after his team blew out Montreal, 9-4.

What now, with the NHL-best Winnipeg Jets (30-10-4 and 9-1 in their last 10) on Causeway Monday night to face the Bruins (7 pm faceoff, NESN, 98.5 FM)?

Mason Lohrei, by the way, was reassigned to Providence (AHL), along with Johnny Beecher (whose NHL career had seemed so solidified only a month ago).

Now the Boston Bruins don’t need the likes of me to tell them that Wotherspoon’s play warrants a regular spot in their NHL lineup. After all, their pro scouts and management team saw Wotherspoon plenty in AHL games between Bridgeport and Providence.

And why?

“Obviously, there’s a lot of good D’men in Long Island like (Adam) Pelech and (Ryan) Pulock to name a few. They all did come from Bridgeport where I did come from. That’s a big testament to coach Brent Thompson over at Bridgeport,” said Wotherspoon. “I had him for six years. You know, he’s just good at getting defensemen to the next spot. He obviously sent those guys up, so it was just a little bit of a logjam over the years, and I just had to wait patiently and obviously it was a long time. But I just never wavered in the confidence in being an NHL player.”

Scott Mayfield is another Islanders mainstay who played parts of four AHL seasons under Thompson’s tutelage in Bridgeport, Conn. Thompson also worked there with Devon Toews, whose NHL career has flourished as Colorado’s defensive complement to Cale Makar.

With a full decade behind the Bridgeport bench before finally leaving to join Greg Cronin coaching the Anaheim Ducks, Thompson operated a factory of patient development of all-around, NHL defensemen.

“Everything happens for a reason, obviously, and I’m happy with where I’m at right now so it would be hard to knock all those years that I spent down there. It is time to grow, and I just had to be patient,” said Wotherspoon.

At 190 pounds, the 6-foot Wotherspoon doesn’t fill out his hockey gear quite as fully as the typical Islanders blue liner, but he punches above his weight and adds a certain spice to Boston’s mix without sacrificing game-management composure or positional reliability.

Kudos are in order to the Boston Bruins scouting department for seizing the opportunity presented by Wotherspoon’s contractual dilemma. Because of his August birthday, the Islanders held an extra (sixth) year of player control, and they had always qualified him. The other edge of that sword was that Wotherspoon, having the requisite number of pro-hockey years but never reaching the collective bargaining agreement’s earning threshold, in 2023 became an outright free agent.

The Bruins, especially seeing how Jakub Zboril has struggled since his ACL injury, were eager to bring Wotherspoon aboard. The curiosity in this space is how Wotherspoon would think it any better to come to Boston with so many sure-thing, NHL opportunities available elsewhere.

“When (the Bruins) were calling, they’re the greatest regular-season team ever, right? Obviously, it was a great honor, first of all, just that they wanted me,” said Wotherspoon. “It was a pretty easy decision when they came calling. I had good talks with the coach and GM, they seemed like they wanted me, and I knew I wanted to be here. Just be a part of that winning culture and good leadership.”

He began the season in Providence, and there was no guarantee that things would unfold as they have to this point.

“Like I said, trust the process,” said Wotherspoon. “I knew I came into a new system. I’d been in the same system for seven years.”

Especially as defensemen have missed games on all pairings and on both sides of the dot, Wotherspoon’s two-sided performance has been integral to the Bruins’ recent improvement in defending against hard-cycling teams looking to emulate the Florida Panthers. He credits the coaching staff with making “some good adjustments.”

Signed to a one-year, $775,000 deal, Wotherspoon will be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights at season’s end.

Now that the secret is out that this 26-year-old is no emergency band-aid but rather a patiently developed prospect whose NHL opportunities were limited by the Islanders’ blue-line depth, push is creeping up on shove.

There is substantial hockey left to be played, but the many moving parts in the Bruins’ season picture are beginning to crystallize. And Wotherspoon is emerging as the steal their pro scouts told management was worth its pitch.

By the way, if Wotherspoon becomes a long-term regular, he will join Pavel Zacha in the Bruins’ unofficial (and highly successful) 2015 draft-mitigation plan.

As part of Era Night Saturday, the focus was on the 1984-94 rivalry with the Montreal Canadiens.

The Bruins were heavily favored in their ’84 best-of-five, but hated Hab Jacques Lemaire had resurfaced as the Canadiens’ coach and gave the NHL a foreshadow of the 1995 New Jersey Devils. Big, strong, mean and fundamentally sound, the Canadiens – this was two years prior to Patrick Roy – held the Bruins to two Tom Fergus goals and swept the series.

The archrivals would play 10 times in the playoffs over 11 seasons. Montreal won the first four, sweeping three of those series. Raymond Bourque emerged as the NHL’s preeminent three-zone defenseman, Terry O’Reilly went from banged-up captain to inspirational coach, stagnant Canucks prospect Cam Neely found stardom as hockey’s next-generation power forward and, in 1988, Boston ended a 45-year playoff hex and won five of six series against Montreal over a seven-year period.

On hand Saturday to talk about the era were Jay Miller and Nevin Markwart.

Markwart, the final first-round draft choice of 1983, played Game 3 of the ’84 series with a partial tear to his ACL. Knee and shoulder injuries plagued his career and prematurely turned him into a part-time player, but Markwart’s off-ice interest in technology had club president Harry Sinden hoping he’d go into NHL management.

In 1988, Markwart set up the Bruins with the NHL’s first 401K pension program, something for which he says contemporaries still thank him. He earned a master’s degree in business administration from Northeastern. He went on to a 25-year career in investments. After his 2015 retirement, he earned a master’s degree in cybersecurity at Brown. In recent years, he’s spent more time back where he grew up to look after his ailing parents.

“I’m 59 and I really look forward to the next 10 or 15 years. I think that the sports and media industries are … at the forefront of technology right now. I think we’re right on the verge of seeing, for instance, the hockey players make double-triple what they’re making today,” he said. “I think the opportunity, especially in hockey, is tremendous.”

As a kid, Markwart was like Matthew Broderick’s character in War Games, hacking computers which, in that era, were limited to defense systems and some universities.

“You’re going to see (virtual-reality) goggles make their way into the global domain in the next two-four-six years, and I think it’ll be no different than what happened with the flip phone transitioning into this thing that we have now. That’s a supercomputer from literally like seven years ago. It sits in your hand and, if you happen to lose it, you just replace it,” he said.

Alright, so the Jets reportedly had poison in their room causing underachievement the last couple of seasons, and coach Rick Bowness’ comments after watching Winnipeg fizzle at the end did not dispel the theory.

Speculation abounded as to who would go. Well Blake Wheeler went, Mark Scheifele stayed, and the Jets soared.

Connor Hellebuyck (or Hella-Bucyk as I like to think of him) will win the Vezina Trophy (voted by NHL GM’s), but he didn’t get better. The team around him became one.

The fact the Philadelphia Flyers hit the wall on Saturday against a Colorado team frustrated after losing in Boston doesn’t mean the Flyers are about to sink. The game was more competitive than the final score might indicate in that Philly rallied to make it a one-goal game midway through the final period. Only Mikko Rantanen (think modern-day Jari Kurri) scored on the powerplay, and Drew O’Connor added an empty-netter for the 7-spot.

Patrice Bergeron mercifully put the kabosh on the rumors of a potential comeback this season, where the Bruins still need faceoff help and have no ability to acquire a significant upgrade at the center position without trading Linus Ullmark.

I’ve been very pro Ullmark since he was keeping the Buffalo Sabres in games, but is there any doubt Jeremy Swayman will sign his first career contract with the Bruins this summer?

Due diligence, it will play out, and Ullmark has a year remaining. The question is whether there is a team at the trade deadline that believes Ullmark changes it’s 2024 playoff trajectory and has the upgrades the Bruins need.

Earlier in the season, that team would have been the Edmonton Oilers, but the coaching change and an adjustment period have given way to a double-digit win streak not even the Gretzky-Messier Oilers ever put up.

Speaking of Patrick Roy, desperate times call for desperate measures. Can’t wait to see how this one works out. I digress.

I’m not one to tell fans (the cable, streaming and ticket-buying benefactors of the millionaires who play a kid’s game for a living) how to feel, but during Saturday’s game the TD Garden videoboard celebrated Ray Bourque “On This Night” in 1997; his goal and two assists eclipsed Johnny Bucyk’s all-time franchise-best scoring record.

I know there are stragglers out there still bitter that Bourque asked out of Boston, but keep this in mind: If he were of a mind to abandon the Bruins to chase the Stanley Cup, wouldn’t he have done so in 1977 when the Bruins were bottoming out and he still had plenty to give the game?

Bourque made his decision at age 39 when injuries to teammates including Jason Allison and Byron Dafoe had leveraged the 1999-2000 season south and, for the first time in his career, his own motivation and performance were suffering. He needed to know if he was, in fact, washed up. And he knew the only place to find out was in a positive atmosphere. He requested Philadelphia. Sinden knew better. The rest is history.

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