Peter Chiarelli has stockpiled an impressive amount of young talent at both the NHL and minor league levels. The Bruins have young stars in goal in Tuukka Rask, on the wings, with Milan Lucic and newly acquired Nate Horton, and at center with David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and potential franchise player Tyler Seguin. Organizationally, it would appear the Bruins are fixated on drafting centers, as all of Seguin, Joe Colborne, Zach Hamill, Ryan Spooner, Maxime Sauve, Brad Marchand and Jamie Arniel were drafted as centers, and both Caron and Knight have seen time in the middle, but don’t mistake their drafting preferences for an organizational need, the scouting department simply places a high value on intelligence, and many of these cerebral centers will be converted to wing. This philosophy holds true on defense as well, where the Bruins have either drafted or acquired a number of smart but undersized puck movers to add depth to the system. What this organization lacks is a true, blue-chip talent on defense, but with four more picks in the first two rounds of the 2011 Draft, expectations are high that Chiarelli will fill that need in June.
In Jordan Carron and Brad Marchand, the Bruins saw two of their best left wing prospects break camp with the team, and they’re already reaping the rewards: Caron has recorded two goals in his first five games playing on the Bruins checking line and penalty kill alongside Patrice Bergeron, while Marchand has been an energetic pest, driving the Bruins fourth line, and showing flashes of a top-six skill-set.
In Providence, Maxime Sauve is off to an impressive start with 3 goals in his first 4 games. Sauve’s flown under the radar because injuries limited him to just 25 games last season and cost him a chance to participate in the Bruins summer development camp, but the speedy winger caught everyone’s attention at training camp and is positioning himself to be one of the first call-ups from Providence this year. It’s possible, even reasonable, to think that Max could replace Marco Sturm’s production in Boston’s lineup next year.
A potential wild card on the left side is center/left-wing Ryan Spooner. One of the final cuts from camp this fall, Spooner drew rave reviews from Claude Julien for his “unbelievable hockey sense” and overall hockey IQ. Upon returning to the Peterborough Petes, Spooner put up seven goals and seven assists in the first nine games. With a logjam of talent at center on the NHL roster, his intelligence and high skill-level could facilitate an easy transition to wing for this promising forward whose drawn comparisons to Chicago’s Patrick Sharp.
In addition to the aforementioned top-six talent, the Bruins also have some bottom-six types in the pipeline in energy forwards Jeff LoVecchio and Craig Cunningham, as well as pugilist Lane MacDermid.
Tyler Seguin is the undisputed jewel of this crop, and the Bruins most exciting prospect since Joe Thornton. The NHL is a big transition for any 18-year-old and Seguin certainly has a lot to learn and improve on, but so far, he’s been far more effective than his predecessor, creating numerous scoring chances for himself and his linemates in every single game he’s played this season. And he’s drawn praise from the coaching staff for acknowledging and working diligently to improve his shortcomings. Through five games, Seguin has a goal and two assists and is averaging about 13 minutes per game centering Boston’s third line. The Bruins had originally planned to start Seguin on the wing because they believed that it would be less demanding defensively, but post-concussion symptoms delayed Marc Savard’s return and forced Seguin back into the middle. When Savard does return, look for Seguin to be shifted to the wing, and for his production to increase.
The number two prospect in the Bruins organization is Joe Colborne. The Bruins knew they were taking on a project when they drafted the smooth skating, 6’5 center/right-wing and Joe’s off to a slow start in Providence, but given his skill-set and work ethic it’s just a matter of time before he starts putting up points.
Unfortunately, there’s much less confidence in Zach Hamill. The former eighth overall pick is now in his third pro-season, and while he’s shown more confidence in his offensive game this season, the production just isn’t there. Time is running out on Zack to get it going and the Bruins patience could be wearing thin.
The last high-potential player in this group is Swedish loyalist Carl Soderberg. The 25-year-old center/left-wing is leading Sweden’s Tier 2 League in scoring, but has shown little interest in plying his considerable talent in North America.
Right wing may not appear quite as deep as center or left wing, but it’s important to note that all of Caron, Marchand and Colborne have had their best seasons playing the right side. In addition to those three, the Bruins think they stole Jared Knight with the 32nd pick in last spring’s draft. The stocky but undersized Knight was one of the stars of this summer’s development camp, where his fearless style and explosive shooting arsenal were on full display. Look for Knight to play his way onto the US World Junior Team this winter, and potentially make some noise at next fall’s training camp.
Potential bottom-six candidates include the obviously intelligent, 6’2 Harvard sophomore Alexander Fallstrom, the and the hard-working, defensively responsible Jamie Arniel, who is off to a fast start in Providence with three goals in six games.
Through a series of trades, Chiarelli has quietly built up the prospect depth on the blue line, and while there is no stud in the mix, there are quite a few intriguing prospects.
Adam McQuaid is the most NHL ready of the bunch. The steady, physical defender has 28 NHL games under his belt, including nine playoff games last season where he acquitted himself well. McQuaid is currently with the big club as the seventh defenseman and could get his first shot at game action this week, as a result of Johnny Boychuk’s recent arm injury.
The defensive prospect with the highest upside is arguably Prince Albert’s Ryan Button, who combines tremendous skating and offensive moxie with good size and tenacity. Button absolutely dominated development camp last summer, but the 19-year-old was unable able to distinguish himself in the main camp.
Matt Bartkowski on the other hand, really made an impression in camp. After leading the team in preseason scoring through their first six games, the Bruins decided to take him with them to Europe. Matt was finally cut the day before the season started but the message was clear, ‘be ready, you’ll be back.’ A gritty, mature player with solid mobility and a good first pass, Bartkowski projects to be a steady fourth or fifth defensman.
Bartkowski’s defense partner in Providence, Steven Kampfer, also impressed in training camp, and the undersized, right-handed, puck-mover used that strong showing as motivation to start the season: through six games, Kampfer is leading the P-Bruins in scoring, with a goal, four assists and a plus-3.
Another talented but undersized defenseman making some noise in the Bruins system is Boston University Junior David Warsofsky. Warsofsky opened his season by scoring five points in his first two games, helping BU to win the Ice Breaker Tournament in St. Louis. The performance earned this Rafalksi-esque defender, Hockey East Player of the Week honors.
Across town, rival Boston College has a stud defenseman of their own in Tommy Cross. The 6’3 210 pound, shut down defender is finally healthy after a series of pre and post draft knee issues hindered his development. The National Champion is looking to take his game to the next level in his junior year by adding more offensive punch. And he’s off to a good start: after scoring five goals all of last season, Cross has two in his first four games.
Alexandrov is a smooth skating, analytical defender who is making his long-awaited North American debut this season. Early returns are that Alexandrov has some work to do in terms of getting his fitness up to NHL standards and figuring out the North American game, but the 22-year-old has no shortage of talent or experience, having already played five seasons in the KHL, and could push for some games in Boston by year’s end. The dark horse of this entire defensive group is Chudinov. The 2010 seventh-round is short, but stocky and powerful, possessing that rare combination of skating, two-way skills and a legitimate nasty edge to his game. Last season, Chudinov led all defensemen in scoring on the 2010 Russian World Junior team, he put up more points at age 19 than Alexandrov at the same age, and this year, the 20-year-old is off to a red-hot start for Severstal of the KHL, where in seventeen games, he’s posted five goals, ten points and is a plus-5, while averaging almost 22 minutes a night. Despite those contributions, Chudinov is probably best known for laying out Claude Giroux with a big, open ice hit after the whistle, at the end of the 2009 Super Series, an incident that touched off a ten-man brawl. It’s antics like that, that have some scouts projecting him to be a more talented version of Darius Kasparitis. The so-called ‘Russian factor’ certainly played a role in Chudinov slipping to the seventh round and upon drafting him, Peter Chiarelli suggested that we wouldn’t see Chudinov in North America for at least two years.
The prospect pool is a little shallow in goal for the Boston Bruins but, thanks to a dominating NHL rookie season from 23-year-old Tuukka Rask, there isn’t a sense of urgency to go out and find another blue-chipper right away. For now, the Bruins have some depth in journeyman Nolan Schaefer, who’s starting in Providence, and free-agent signees Matt Dalton and Adam Courchaine, also in the AHL and ECHL respectively. And for the not-too-distant future, the Bruins have two long-term projects with NHL potential in Michael Hutchinson and Zane Gothberg.
Hutchinson, who was sensational in a 34 save performance against the Islander’s rookies this fall, is starting the season as the P-Bruins backup, and can be a formidable goalie when on his game, but too often, consistency eludes him.
Gothberg, who was one of the youngest players in the NHL draft, and the only 17-year-old at the Bruins development camp this summer, held his own against the likes of Tyler Seguin, Jordan Caron and Joe Colborne and was excellent later in the summer at the US World Junior camp. How high this competitive and athletic hybrid can climb remains to be seen, but expect him to take the long road, with a full season in the USHL this year, two to three years at the University of North Dakota, and potentially, some time in the minors as well.
Article was written by Bill Ladd.