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Q&A with Dan Ryan from Stanley Cup of Chowder

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A conversation about Bruins’ prospects, coaching, power play and much more.

NHL: Boston Bruins at Chicago Blackhawks Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

With the Winter Classic coming up, Second City Hockey and Stanley Cup of Chowder decided to get you prepped for annual outdoor showcase on New Year’s Day with a series of posts before puck drop.

I met with Dan Ryan, the managing editor for the Bruins’ blog, and we put together a question-and-answer that offers a Beantown perspective on the Bruins.

1. How would you rank your previous first-round picks since 2014? Who do you think has the highest ceiling?

Draft Picks: David Pastrnak (RW) 25th in 2014, Jakub Zboril (D) 13th in ‘15, Jake DeBrusk (LW) 14th in ‘15 , Zachary Senyshyn (RW) 15th in ‘15, Charlie McAvoy (D) 14th in ‘16, Trent Frederic (C) 29th in ‘16, Urho Vaakanainen (D) 18th in ‘17.

In terms of current talent/potential, I’d go: Pastrnak, McAvoy, DeBrusk, Vaakanainen, Frederic, Senyshyn and Zboril. The Bruins hit a home run with Pastrnak, and McAvoy is looking like an excellent pick as well. DeBrusk is currently saving Don Sweeney from taking even more heat about that 2015 draft, as he passed on a number of guys who are tearing it up.

Senyshyn just hasn’t put it together yet, and Zboril is making progress. Vaakanainen is actually the most intriguing, as he was pegged by many Bruins fans as a random Finnish league kid who’d take years to develop, only to actually make the Bruins out of camp this year. He should be fun to watch in the WJC.

For highest ceiling, it’s gotta be Pastrnak. McAvoy could be a top-pairing defenseman some day, but Pastrnak is already an elite goal-scorer. In terms of pure offensive talent, he’s arguably the best the Bruins have had in at least a decade, with only Tyler Seguin and Phil Kessel even coming close.

2. What makes your power-play so effective? It currently ranks fifth in the league with a 27.1 percent conversion rate. Blackhawks fans are jealous, since the team currently sits near dead last in power play percentage.

There are really three guys who strike me as being key to PP productivity: Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron (C) and Torey Krug (D). Pastrnak sets up shop in the Stamkos/Ovechkin area of the face-off circle, firing home one-timers with regularity. Krug is great at the point, whether it’s getting shots through traffic or making the extra pass that throws off the PK.

Bergeron is arguably the most important, as he’s great at what play-by-play announcer Jack Edwards refers to as the “bumper position,” playing in the high slot. He and the rest of the top unit have great chemistry, and they know where the puck is going. If Bergeron can take a pass in that high slot, he’s great at getting a shot off in little space or at quickly moving it elsewhere, all while drawing the defense in.

They’ve have a few PPGs recently where things looked like clockwork, and it’s impressive to watch at times.

3. What type of intangibles does head coach Bruce Cassidy instill into the Bruins team play? What are the most notable pros that Cassidy provides and what are the most notable cons that are in need of improvement?

Cassidy is an interesting case, because the common response is that he has them playing a less “defense-first” game and a more uptempo style. However, one of our writers found that the Bruins were actually generating fewer shots under Cassidy than they were under Claude Julien, so who knows.

I definitely think he doesn’t have the same focus on defense as Claude did, however, leading to a bit more excitement and a bit less of the “suffocate the opponent” approach that Claude seemed to use. I’d say that those slightly loosened reins are among his strengths. He also is willing to juggle his lines and throw different units out there, which can be refreshing.

Cons team-wise are that the Bruins remain a one-line team for the most part, which is what doomed them in the playoffs last spring. They can be clamped down by a good defensive team because that secondary scoring just hasn’t been there, for the most part. David Krejci got going a bit while Bergeron was out, but he’s going to need to keep it going if they have any chance of making noise in the playoffs.

4. What is your most memorable Hawks-Bruins rivalry moment in the last decade?

While it ended poorly from a Boston perspective, the 2013 Final had a couple of good moments. Daniel Paille (of all people) scoring that OT goal in Game 2 was cool, as was that GIF of Niklas Hjalmarsson scampering away from a Milan Lucic forecheck. However, we don’t want to dwell on that series around here.

Two others that come to mind: PJ Axelsson scoring a shootout winner in Chicago (this may have been more than a decade ago) and Zdeno Chara’s fight with David Koci. That one was a bit tough to watch, but showed what happens when Chara actually gets angry.

5. What makes this Winter Classic special for the Bruins?

I personally think it will be cool to see the Bruins play one as a visiting team. They’ve hosted two, but haven’t been the road team yet, so that’s a cool twist. The Original 6 angle is cool as well, as the Bruins and Blackhawks don’t really have a “rivalry,” but have a lot of history that’s cool to revisit.

Plus, playing in Notre Dame Stadium has to be awesome for the players. I’m not the biggest Boston College fan, but they had a good rivalry with Notre Dame football for several years, so that adds another layer to the game.

Plus, one of the Bruins prospects, Anders Bjork, actually played his college hockey at Notre Dame, but I don’t think he’ll be on the roster for this one.

6. What is one thing about this Bruins team that may surprise opposing fans?

If you’re a fan of a Western Conference team or a fan who just doesn’t see many Bruins games, you might be surprised at how fun it is to watch David Pastrnak play. He’s one of those players who isn’t afraid to try a deke that probably won’t work, but if it does, will be on highlight reels for months.

Fans also may be surprised at how effective Zdeno Chara can be, though I say this before seeing how he is after he returns fro his latest knee injury. Speed was never a key aspect of Chara’s game, so age hasn’t sunken him as it has others. He’s still smart with his positioning and knows how to use his size to his advantage. He’s not going to compete for a Norris again, but he remains an imposing figure on the blue line.

Check out my Q&A on Stanley Cup of Chowder