bird

Future Outlook: Tyler Bird

Tyler Bird was the Columbus Blue Jackets’ 5th round selection in the 2014 NHL entry draft. The 17 year old winger from Andover, Massachusetts was the youngest player selected by the Jackets this year and will be a long term project in the organization for a good chunk of years.

Bird played his most recent and most successful season of hockey at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire. He transferred to KUA after two years at St. John’s Prep so he could surround himself with better players and coaches and to play against higher overall competition. This is an important note, so keep it in mind throughout the article.

This fall, Bird will be playing NCAA Division I hockey, joining the Brown Bears of the Ivy League who, although haven’t had a storied hockey history, will be bringing in a promising class of recruits highlighted by the Bird-man himself. The Bears play in the ECAC hockey conference, which consists of the past two NCAA Champions: Yale University and Union College. If Bird hadn’t committed to Brown University, he was also drafted in the QMJHL and USHL entry drafts at a modest 252nd and 257th overall, respectively, and could’ve pursued his hockey career from those leagues instead. But alas, he will be a Brown-Bear-Bird-Man come this fall.

Quick Info:

  • Born: August 14th, 1996 (Age 17)
  • Hometown: Andover, Massachusetts
  • Position: Right Wing
  • Size: 6’2”, ~200 pounds
  • Shoots: Right
  • Drafted: 5th Round, 137th overall

Past Stats:

From Hockey’s Future:

2011-12: Tyler Bird played for St. John’s Prep in Massachusetts as a sophomore and skated for the Valley Junior Warriors Empire Junior Hockey League team. He scored 9 goals with 5 assists in 20 games during the regular season skating on the first line with Brian Pinho (WSH) and Sam Kurker (STL). The Pioneers finished 16-6-2 and reached the semifinals of the 2012 Super Eight Tournament with wins over Springfield Cathedral, Central Catholic and St.Mary’s before falling to BC High, 3-2. Bird scored 5 goals with 3 assists and 8 penalty minutes in 17 games with the Warriors.

2012-13: Bird skated for St. John’s Prep as a junior. In 19 regular season games he scored 10 goals with 12 assists. St. John’s was the top ranked team heading into the Super Eight Tournament and defeated Central Catholic in a three-game quarterfinal series before falling 2-1 to Austin Prep in the semifinals; finishing the year 19-4-1. In February he committed to playing college hockey at Brown in 2015-16. Bird was selected by Rimouski in the 14th round (252nd overall) in the QMJHL Entry Draft and was chosen by Tri-City in the 18th round (257th overall) of the USHL Entry Draft.

2013-14: Bird transferred to Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire in his senior year; skating for former University of Maine head coach Tim Whitehead in the New England prep hockey league. He was the second-leading scorer for the Wildcats behind 2015 draft-eligible left wing A.J. Greer. Bird scored 33 goals with 27 assists in 37 games. He scored his final goal in the NEPSIHA Small School championship game as Kimball Union defeated Dexter 5-1. Bird was ranked 117th in Central Scouting’s final rankings for the 2014 NHL Draft, and was took part in the NHL Scouting Combine in May prior to the draft.

Maturation:

Tyler’s 2013-2014 year with Kimball Union was a huge step forward in the young player’s maturation, or at least that’s how it seems from his stat lines. Let’s take a look to see how much he really matured.

His point production went from 14 points in 20 games (.7 points per game) in his Sophomore year, to 22 points in 19 games (1.16 points per game) in his Junior year, to skyrocketing in his Senior year with 33 goals & 27 assists in 37 games played (1.62 points per game). Keep in mind that he spent both his Sophomore and Junior years at St. John’s Prep, before transferring to KUA to find higher competition. Many may find this sudden increase in production exciting, but there are a few red flags about it.

There are about 2 ways in which we can explain Bird’s newly found scoring prowess at the KUA.

The most optimistic approach is to say that Bird highly benefited from being under the guidance of experienced head coach Tim Whitehead. Whitehead is the current coach of KUA and was formerly the head coach of the University of Maine Black Bears and lead them to two NCAA Division I championship game appearances. It’s hard to do that without being a very good coach. It’s possible that Whitehead was was able to develop Tyler’s game in places that went unnoticed at St. John’s Prep. Maybe Kristian Hanson, the St. John’s Prep coach since 2007 (who has no coaching experience outside of Massachusetts prep league), didn’t teach Bird well enough to hone his skills, or maybe Bird was used poorly during his two year stint at St. John’s.

In any case, Bird probably benefited a lot from having a good coach showing him the ropes. Let’s hope that the staff at Brown can continue to help Bird grow as a player.

The other explanation for Bird’s sudden swelling point production is a bit more worrisome.

What if “Bird only surged because of his line mates”? Bird played with very good teammates and his coach put him on a very solid line in his year at Kimball Union. In fact, he was on such a good line that it started to gain some notice around the hockey blogosphere. Ryan Kennedy of THN wrote an article about the line and claimed that “the combination of Tyler Bird, J.D. Dudek and A.J. Greer might just be the most dangerous line in all of prep school hockey.”

While your first instinct may be to have praise for Bird’s success on that line, you start to wonder: Is Bird himself what makes that line so lethal? When you look at his past stats on the St. John’s first line, you never really see a knack for scoring and you start to seriously doubt that Bird is driving the line’s production.

Of course, being able to contribute to a scoring line is always a useful asset whether you’re driving production or just flying alongside along for the ride, but was Bird holding his line mates back?

After a bit of simple research, I found my answer.

Interestingly enough, both AJ Greer and JD Dudek had increased production with Bird on their wing (there was genuinely no pun intended on this one). Greer had the larger increase in production, going from 1.17 points per game in 2012-13 to 1.84 points per game with Bird for a total of 57 points in 31 games. Dudek, who was drafted in the 6th round by the Devils, went from 1.45 PPG in 2012-2013 to 1.76 points per game with Bird for a total of 44 points in 25 games.

Bird actually scored more points and played more games than both Greer and Dudek, who both spent both their Junior and Senior years at KUA to Bird’s 1 year. (Interesting to note that Hockey’s Future said that Greer outscored Bird, which wasn’t the case according to EliteProspects.com)

This revelation is fascinating because a consistent knock on Bird’s game is that he lacks top 6 talent. But somehow, he came in to an established prep school and, along with proper coaching, made the two best players on the team better by increasing their point production all while bettering himself by .46 points per game against better competition and in the end winning the Small School New England Championship in his only year at KUA. Color me impressed.

Bird’s stellar Senior year at Kimball impressed more people than just me, apparently. Bird was actually ranked higher by the Central Scouting Agency than Dudek and other teammate Dominic Franco despite only having 1 stand-out year.

After KUA:

But of course, that was all high school. While his senior stats were impressive, he’s moving on to his toughest task in his young hockey career.

This autumn, Bird and the other 8 players in the 2014 recruiting class are looking to reshape the hockey program at Brown, who just had an abysmal 11-17-3 record for a .403 win percentage. Everyone’s hoping that the new recruits will have a successful 4 years at Brown and compete with the conference’s top dogs like Union College and Yale University, but that remains to be seen.

The reason why this recruiting class for Brown is valuable isn’t because it has generational talent or anything like that really; it’s because it’s deep. Last year, Brown had 3 players score at least 29 points, but the 4th highest scorer only had 17 points on the year. If the Bears want to become a better hockey team, they have to have a deeper depth chart, one that even halfway resembles the University of Minnesota’s (who had 9 players score more than 20 points) will give them a good start, and that’s what they hope they have coming in this year. Brown also needs a top-end player that can score 1.6-2 points per game like Daniel Carr of Union College, and Bird could be that type of player for them.

The coaching staff at Brown will be looking for Bird to become a solid leader and a top scorer on the team for the next four years, as I believe they can expect Bird to stay for his degree, at least that would probably be the smartest route for him. Considering his future in hockey isn’t a sure thing, it would make sense for him to get a full degree at an Ivy League school, don’t you think?

Tyler will fight for and share top line minutes alongside Mark Naclerio, Nick Lappin, and Matt Lorito, who all scored at or above a point-per-game pace and at or above 29 points on the year. It will be interesting to see if Bird can increase the production of these successful forwards like he did with Greer and Dudek at KUA, or if it was just a one time thing.

One of my main concerns about how well Bird will be able to immediately produce in college is his size. Tyler has said several times that his playing style benefits a lot from how he’s able to use his body. The 6’2”, 200 pound “kid” throws his body around, uses it to protect the puck, so on and so forth. This style may translate very well in high school against smaller players, but how will it do in college when he’s playing against guys that can 4 years older than him and more matured? His size is an asset for sure, but he’s going to have to relearn how to use it in a college setting if he wants to remain as successful as he was at Kimball Union throughout college and beyond.

Why was he drafted?

A goal of ours writing this series of articles is to look at each player and be able to answer, “Why did Jarmo and his scouts target this guy?” I believe there are a lot of aspects to it in Bird’s case. There isn’t one thing that jumps out at you like Milano’s hands or Collin’s size, but Bird has the potential to just be solid. And sometimes solid, like in the case of Mark Letestu, is one of the most important things you can be for a team. A complete, all around player is hardly anything to scoff at, and it seems like Bird is on his way to being just that.

Players go late in the draft for a variety of reasons; Lack of offensive talent, lack of defensive ability, character issues, and many many other reasons. The main reason that Bird was only selected in the 5th round is because he is unproven, and I think that’s the main reason Jarmo gambled a little bit, realizing that Bird broke out with perfect timing. Other teams would shy away from him because he’s only had 1 stand-out year, while the Jackets were getting a player that was trending upward.

Bird is a classic case of a player that’s “trending upward”. In his first year under an impressive coaching staff, he had a breakout season and won a championship. He broke out after turning just 17 years old and will only be 18 on August 14th. He is a huge player for how young he is and has the frame of a very prototypical power forward in the NHL. He’s had scoring ability and has been a solid 2-way player throughout his young career.

Jarmo and his scouts probably saw how well Bird did under Tim Whitehead and wondered, “how well could Tyler do with an AHL level coach or under the guidance of Richards?” It’s fun to think about and it will be interesting to see how much Tyler Bird can develop in all the different levels of hockey he plays in.

NHL Projection:

Jarmo drafted Bird knowing that he will be a project, and a long one at that. After 4 years in college, Bird will graduate at the age of 21. After he turns 22, he will likely play in the AHL for Springfield (or whoever the CBJ affiliate is in 5 years) and will probably play there for a few years before sniffing the roster of a currently young and deep Blue Jackets squad. By these ballpark estimates, Bird will be at least 6-8 years away from a job in the NHL, assuming he makes it that far.

If Tyler Bird makes it to the NHL, it looks like he will be a versatile bottom 6 winger as of now. For the most part it’s still believed that he lacks the top-6 talent needed to be on the top 2 lines in the NHL, but his body frame, size, and grit will be very valuable on the 3rd and 4th lines. He is known for being in an around the goal crease creating tons of traffic and having a quick and heavy shot which is always a sought after role in the NHL.

Admittedly, this prediction could be entirely wrong by the time that he gets around to actually competing for a spot, because it seems like there is no glaring weakness in Bird’s game. He’s a solid, all around player right now and depending on how he develops, he could completely blow my projections out of the water. But we also don’t really know if he’ll develop anymore at all, that’s what’s so tricky about a player who has only proven himself one year (I’m looking at you, Johansen).

It’ll be fun to watch and see if the Bird-man can continue to fly high his success at Brown and see just how much he can mature until his second development camp with the club come next summer.

Avery Kreemer

About Avery Kreemer

Columbus-area native and Blue Jacket enthusiast.

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