While the Bruins already have over $40 million committed in salary cap space next season, they also have a large group of players who are on the cusp of being an NHL regular, allowing the organization at least a degree of maneuverability under the cap next season, and even greater flexibility down the road.
The organization has shown a fondness for drafting skilled centers over the past few seasons so while they are very thin at left wing, it should not be a cause for concern as many of their forwards can play multiple positions. The Bruins do have three left wingers in the professional ranks right now in Jeff LoVecchio, Matt Marquardt and Lane MacDermid.
LoVecchio, a free-agent signing from 2007-08, brings a mix of skill and physicality to the organization. Currently with the Bruins AHL affiliate in Providence, the 24-year-old experienced a wrist injury and later a serious concussion that caused him to miss all of the 2008-09 season. Now completely recovered, LoVecchio looks settled into the professional style of game.
Another left winger with some offensive ability is Marquardt. Now in his second season with Providence and his second professional season, the 22-year-old has shown flashes of offensive ability and also possesses the big frame the Bruins seem partial to. His play is enigmatic though and he can be offensively inconsistent.
MacDermid, an overage player picked in the fourth round of the 2009 draft, has shown an aggressive, physical style of play and a willingness to drop the gloves. He does have the propensity for taking some sloppy penalties though and still needs to adjust to the professional style of game. The 20-year-old is limited in his offensive ability and will likely top out at a serviceable third or fourth-liner.
Colborne, a 6’5 19-year-old playing in the NCAA for Denver, came to the organization as a raw prospect. Now in his sophomore season, the Alberta native has placed a greater emphasis on scoring, and appears to have learned to utilize his superior size and reach to his advantage.
Hamill, another first-round pick, is entering his second full season of professional hockey. After posting only 13 goals, 13 assists in his first season, the 21-year-old is looking to take a greater scoring role for the Bruins AHL affiliate. A gifted playmaker, Hamill has produced fairly well on the man-advantage thus far in his professional career but has yet to be to be the impact scorer that he was envisioned as when drafted eighth overall in 2007.
Jamie Arniel, another of the many centers drafted in 2008, was taken in the fourth-round despite a multitude of on and off-ice issues. Now in his first season with the Bruins’ AHL affiliate, the 19-year-old has shown good ability to chase down and recover loose pucks, and has shown flashes of offensive ability, mainly on the man-advantage.
The second center the Bruins drafted in 2008 and possibly one of the most offensively gifted is Val d’Or Foreurs forward Maxime Sauve. When drafted, Sauve was considered undersized and questions regarding his commitment to the defensive side of the puck were prevalent. This year, Sauve added about two inches and 15 pounds to his frame and has shown a greater commitment to the defensive side of the puck. Currently among the top scorers of the QMJHL, Sauve brings a mix of blazing speed, slick playmaking ability, and a goal-scoring touch to the Bruins organization.
Levi Nelson, another center entering his second full professional season, is starting the 2009-10 season on injured reserve because of a collarbone injury sustained during the rookie tournament in Kitchener. At 6’ 190 lbs, the 21-year-old plays a physical, energetic type of game, chasing pucks in the corners and playing physically along the boards. He will never be great offensive contributor but has drawn praises from the coaching staff for his on-ice enthusiasm and willingness to muck it up.
Another of the centers drafted in 2008 is Nicholas Tremblay, a speedy center now in his sophomore season with Clarkson University. Tremblay, 21, has been an offensively-minded forward for most of his hockey career, but is finally starting to display those gifts at the collegiate level, playing on the Golden Knights top power-play unit.
The final center to be selected in the 2008 draft is Mark Goggin, a former USHL and prep school player who is in his freshman season with Dartmouth. Goggin is a speedy center who at only 19 could be considered a project forward. His size, 5’11 180 lbs, is a concern but mainly it is just his need to improve his defensive abilities and fundamentals. He does have good hands and offensive awareness.
A forward who may not have a future in North America is Carl Soderberg. An immensely talented but enigmatic forward who has spent his hockey career in Sweden, the rights to Soderberg were acquired in 2007 with the hope he would come to North America. Alas, the forward has indicated he has no desire to come to North America unless he will be an impact player at the NHL level. Considering that he has had difficulty at the SEL level of play let alone the NHL, the 24-year-old seems a long-shot at this point to come to North America.
Rounding out the Bruins large and diverse crop of centers is Ben Sexton, a center who is currently lacing up for Penticton Vees of the BCHL. Picked in the seventh round of the 2009 draft, the 18-year-old Sexton plays an offensive game but is also not afraid to play physically either. He is still a fairly raw talent but has shown a willingness to play at both ends of the ice. Sexton is committed to Clarkson University next season where he will join fellow Bruins prospect Nicholas Tremblay.
Jordan Caron was injured to start the year and has only played five games so far for the Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL). When healthy, the now 19-year-old plays an offensively robust style of game, using his frame and skills to dictate the play. The big question though is can he remain healthy for a full season, as he’s missed chunks of time the last few seasons.
One of the first forwards recalled to the NHL this season is Brad Marchand, a 21-year-old agitator who is in only his second professional season of hockey. Although undersized, Marchand is not afraid to play physically. In fact, it is his willingness to battle for the puck along the boards and aggressively shoot the puck that was the main reason for his call-up in the first place. There is no guarantee Marchand will stick for the remainder of the 2009-10 season but recent injuries and trades will assure he is given every chance.
In October, the Bruins acquired the rights to Alexander Fallstrom from the Minnesota Wild. A 6’2 19-year-old from Sweden, Fallstrom is currently in his freshman season at Harvard. Fallstrom is an offensively-gifted forward who, after playing for Shattuck-St. Mary’s last season, is already assimilated to the North American style of game. While he is still many years away, Fallstrom could prove to be a great pickup for the Bruins down the road.
Another big-bodied forward in the system, Byron Bitz made an almost immediate impact in the NHL when called up last season. Starting the 2009-10 season in the NHL, Bitz seems to have established himself as an NHL regular, playing a very effective fourth-line role for the Bruins. The 25-year-old will never fill the net with enough regularity to be depended for offense, but plays with energy and cycles the puck well enough to manufacture the occasional goal.
Among the most talented players in the Bruins system is Providence forward Mikko Lehtonen. At 6’3 196 lbs, the immensely talented 22-year-old possesses all of the facets of a solid NHL power forward, it is just a matter of putting it altogether on a consistent basis. Now in his second season of North American hockey, the slick Finn looks to have comfortably adjusted to the more physical style of play.
Yannick Riendeau, a gifted scorer for Drummondville of the QMJHL, the 21-year-old has started the season injured reserve after signing a three-year entry-level deal. When he is finally healthy, Riendeau will likely report to the AHL, although because of a glut of talented young forwards in their system, he could also start in the ECHL. At 5’10 and under 180 lbs, Riendeau is a bit undersized for the pro game. Nonetheless, he scored 58 goals last year in a full season in the QMJHL and the Bruins hope that talent will translate to the next level.
Jordan Knackstedt plays with energy and competes as hard as anyone on the ice. Still, the 21-year-old needs to upgrade his skating considerably before he can be considered a legitimate NHL prospect.
Yet another large-bodied winger in the Bruins system is Tyler Randell, an 18-year-old power forward drafted in 2009. The Kitchener Rangers forward plays a physical brand of hockey, using his large frame to screen shots in front of the net and separate opponents from the puck. He has also shown a willingness to drop the gloves if needed.
Beyond keeping their key players under contract, the Bruins also have to figure out their long-term plans on defense. Including what to do regarding Zdeno Chara, who will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2010-11 season. The Bruins do have four defensive prospects currently playing for their AHL affiliate in Andrew Bodnarchuk, Jeff Penner, Adam McQuaid, and Alain Goulet. But only McQuaid looks to be close to NHL ready.
The most intriguing defensive prospect in the Bruins system though has to be Yuri Alexandrov, a 21-year-old who is now in his second season playing in the KHL with Cherepovets Severstal. Alexandrov is a brilliant lateral and backward skater who has shown a willingness to play physically, and the ability to quarterback the power play. Alexandrov attended the Bruins prospect conditioning camp in 2009 and weighing in at 185 pounds, looks to have added some much-needed bulk. Still, he will need to add even more muscle if he hopes to maximize his abilities, particularly along the boards.
Entering his third season with the P-Bruins and the closest among their prospects to make the NHL is McQuaid, a shutdown defenseman who was acquired in a trade with Columbus in 2007 and later signed to an entry-level deal. The 23-year-old McQuaid plays a simple, shut-down type of role for the P-Bruins and has shown a willingness to drop the gloves, registering 13 fights last season.
Penner on the other hand is an offensively gifted defender who is entering his second full season of professional hockey. Coming off an injury in October, the 22-year-old is off to a solid start with Providence and has seen more ice time and responsibilities as he has gradually gotten more comfortable. At only 5’10, Penner is undersized for a defenseman and he will need to become stronger as he is occasionally overpowered by stronger opposing forwards.
Bodnarchuk is another puck-moving defenseman but unlike Penner, he has yet to find his scoring touch at the professional level. Now entering his second season, the 21-year-old defenseman is still working on his defensive play and gap control. A gifted puck-mover and mobile skater, Bodnarchuk is still considered a project at this point in his career.
Entering his first professional season is Goulet, a solid puck-moving defenseman who has shown some ability to also play on the man-advantage. Goulet forewent his collegiate career with the University of Nebraska-Omaha and joined the Gatineau Olympiques midway through the 2008-09 season before finally joining the Bruins organization for 2009-10. Having recently turned 21, Goulet is still fairly raw and is prone to overplaying the puck or causing the occasional giveaway. Still, he provides the Bruins with yet another strong skating, puck-moving defenseman for the future.
Ryan Button is another mobile, puck-moving defenseman who is currently in his third season with the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL. At 18, Button has shown good lateral and backward skating ability and plays the puck with great poise on the power play. Still, Button needs to add muscle to his 6’0, 185 lbs frame if he hopes to withstand the rigors of the professional style of game.
Now in his second season with Boston College is Tommy Cross, a large and physical defender who plays a mostly defensive, shut-down type of role. Having turned 20 in September, Cross looks to have comfortably grown into his 6’3 210 lbs frame, learning to utilize his reach and throw around his frame when needed. The defensive defenseman moves well for his size and has a strong shot point though he is fairly undeveloped on the offensive side of the puck.
Radim Ostrcil, a puck-moving defenseman currently playing for HC Slovan Bratislava, rounds out the Bruins defensive prospects. After a disappointing 2007-08 season with the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL, the 20-year-old returned to Europe where he has played since. Ostrcil was drafted for his superior puck-moving abilities, but his skating was not where it needed to be for him to be an impact player in North America.
A prospect whose future there are absolutely no questions about is Tuukka Rask. Picked up in a trade with Toronto in a 2006, the 22-year-old Finn has nothing left to prove at the AHL level, having played two full seasons in which he posted 27 wins in 45 starts and 33 wins in 57 starts respectively. Now playing in the NHL, Rask will start about a third of Boston’s games this season while backing up Vezina winner Tim Thomas.
A prospect whose future is no so certain is 25-year-old Kevin Regan. Now playing for the Reading Royals of the ECHL, Regan had off-season hip surgery and is finally rounding into form after a slow start. He is athletic and sound with his positioning but has not seen regular starting action since his senior year at New Hampshire in 2007-08. The 2009-10 season will be a good time for him to be evaluated by the Bruins as they have several promising goaltending prospects looking to move up the depth chart.
One of those prospects is Sarnia goaltender Adam Courchaine. Signed to a three-year deal in 2007, Courchaine employs a butterfly style of goaltending and has shown good composure in net. Now 20, Courchaine will be a full-time pro next season.
Another goaltending prospect in juniors is Michael Hutchinson, a 19-year-old third round pick from 2008. Hutchinson is in his fourth OHL season and after three seasons with the Barrie Colts, is now the starter for the London Knights. The athletic goaltender needs to work on his consistency however as he is prone to long stretches of poor play.