2009-10 was a disappointing season for the P-Bruins. The team graduated a pair of impact prospects in Tuukka Rask and Johnny Boychuk, and then lost several key players mid-season as long-term-injury-replacements were called up to Boston. The depleted lineup resulted in a 36-38-6 record, good for 12th place in the Eastern Conference. 2010-11 promises to reverse those fortunes. With an infusion of high-end youth, a solid core of returnees and some added veteran depth, Providence looks like they could be one of this year’s elite teams.
Much of the excitement around this team is centered on their new forwards, notably Joe Colborne, Jordan Caron and Max Sauve. All three had strong camps with Boston and as of this writing, Colborne and Caron are still up with the big club. They each bring something different to the table: Sauve has elite speed, Caron has a mature, power forward’s game, and Colborne is a smooth skating, playmakng center, and if they don’t stick with Boston, the trio of freshmen could combine to form Providence’s top line this season.
The team is also returning their second leading scorer, Zach Hamill. It will be a make-or-break season for the former eighth overall pick in 2007. With his rookie year derailed by injury, Hamill struggled through much of his sophomore season, but seemed to turn the corner in the final quarter, scoring 19 of his 44 points in the last 29 games, and posting a plus-10 rating in that span. A natural playmaker and intelligent two-way player, Hamill needs to play with quality finishers to be productive, and reuniting him with his former Junior linemate John Lammers (now with Abbotsford), was what provided that spark last year. Should salary cap considerations force Boston to keep Brad Marchand in Providence, he’ll be their most experienced and proven scorer- and an excellent running mate for Hamill. Rounding out the top-six will most likely be energy forward and fan favorite, Jeff LoVecchio, but keep an eye on former QMJHL scoring stud Yannick Riendeau, as he tries to find his game at the pro level in his second season.
Anchoring the checking line will be veteran, Jeremy Reich, who was brought back to provide experience and leadership to a talented, but young group. The team lost Trent Whitfield indefinitely to an Achilles tendon injury, and will rely on rugged sophomore, Jamie Arniel to take his place in the middle. On the right, expect big Jordan Knackstedt, back for his third year, to continue making steady progress.
The forwards aren’t the only ones getting an infusion of talent. On defense, savvy Russian puck-mover Yuri Alexandrov will be making his long-awaited North American debut. The 37th overall pick in the 2007 draft has some adjusting to do, in terms of training and style of play, but he’s got plenty of skill and pro experience, having played five productive seasons in the KHL. Deadline acquisitions Matt Bartkowski and Steven Kampfer have been training camp standouts in Boston. Bartkowski picked up a pair of assists in his first NHL preseason game and two nights later, Kampfer recorded a goal in his first game, and both players are playing in excess of 25 minutes/game in the preseason. If they don’t stick with Boston, expect all three to play prominent roles in Providence’s top4 this year.
Competition for the remaining spots should be fierce, as returnees Cody Wild, Ryan Donald and Alain Goulet compete with Todd Perry, Jack Christian, Brandon Gentile, Matt Generous and Matt Delahey for a chance to stay with the big club.
The Bruins have four goalies in camp: Nolan Schaefer, Matt Dalton, Adam Courchaine and Michael Hutchinson. Given the collective inexperience of the latter three, it seems a given the P-Bruins brought in Schaefer (251 AHL games) to be one of their main men in nets, providing stability, and mentorship to whoever wins the second chair. Matt Dalton may have the inside track in that regard, given his 46 games in the ECHL last year, but keep an eye on southpaw Mike Hutchinson. He’s the youngest of the three (20 years old) which means they could send him back to Junior for an over-age year, but he also has the highest upside of anyone in this group, is the only one that the Bruins actually invested a draft pick in (77th in 2008), and in the Bruins/Islanders rookie game, he was outstanding, turning back 35 of 36 shots to record the OT win.
The Bruins place a high value on their AHL coaches, and have used the position to develop NHL coaches like Peter Laviolette, Mike Sullivan and Scott Gordon. If Rob Murray is to live up to those expectations, he has to do a lot better than a 36 and 38 record. He gets a pass for last year, but there are no excuses in 2010-11 given the talent the team is bringing to camp. The Bruins believe their minor league team should play the same system as the big club because it makes for an easier transition for call-ups and a consistent philosophy throughout the organization, so expect Murray to demand defensive responsibility and accountability, as he shapes these future Bruins.
By the Bruins own admission, this is arguably the best group of new prospects they’ve had in camp in years. Tyler Seguin, Joe Colborne, Jordan Caron, Jarred Knight, Max Sauve, Ryan Spooner, Yuri Alexandrov, Ryan Button and Michael Hutchinson represent three recent first round picks, four second round picks, and two third round picks.
The early returns on Seguin are that he’s a shoe-in to make the team. The 18-year-old came to camp in impeccable condition, he has a goal and an assist in two preseason games, and the rate at which he’s improving his overall game is remarkable. And while Colborne is doing well and still up with the big club, the two players (outside of Seguin) that are drawing rave reviews from Boston’s brass are Caron and Spooner. Caron’s poise, strength on the puck, and defensive dependability give him the look of a seasoned veteran. And Spooner has been a revelation, using his speed, slick stick skills and his high hockey IQ to impress the Bruins coaching staff. Unfortunately for Providence, should Spooner not make the big club, he’ll have to go back to Junior, but given the depth and talent of this prospect pool, and with four more picks in the first two rounds of the 2011 draft, the future is bright for both Providence and Boston.
Article was written by Bill Ladd.