Small group of Boston Bruins CHL prospects possess loads of skill and grit

By Bill Ladd
Photo: Ryan Spooner is one of several Bruins prospects who is not quite old enough to play full time in the AHL. He will have to make the NHL roster out of training camp next year or play another season in the OHL. (Photo courtesy of www.ontariohockeyleague.com)


It was a tumultuous year for Boston Bruins prospects playing junior hockey in Canada and the States. Half of them, specifically Ryan Spooner, Craig Cunningham and Ryan Button were traded to new junior teams, Knight was the subject of NHL level trade rumors. Zane Gothberg endured a trial by fire in his first season in the USHL, and Tyler Randell literally had to play his way back into Boston’s plans, earning a contract before the clock on his rights ran out. Ultimately they persevered, and in some cases, thrived. Here’s a look at their individual seasons.


OHL

Ryan Spooner, C/LW, Kingston Frontenacs
Acquired: 2nd round, 45th overall, 2010

Ryan Spooner‘s season didn’t go exactly as he had hoped. He didn’t like the way things were going in Peterborough so he requested a trade that put him on what was supposed to be a contender in Kingston, but his new team was dealing with issues of their own and bowed out of the playoffs after just five games. Still, through it all Spooner’s obvious scoring ability was on full display, as he posted a team leading 35 goals and 81pts in 64 games, followed that with a team leading four goals and six points in five playoff games. He also posted two goals and three points in his first three professional games with Providence of the AHL.

Unfortunately for Spooner, it’s Boston or bust because he’s not yet old enough to play in the AHL full time. But Spooner was the last forward cut from the Bruins training camp in September, where his speed, slick puck skills and high hockey-IQ already looked NHL caliber. As is the case with most 18-year-olds, size and strength are Spooner’s biggest weakness, and if Boston’s most skillful prospect hopes to have a shot at making the big team next fall, he’ll have to have a productive off-season in the weight room.

Jared Knight, RW, London Knights
Acquired: 2nd round, 32nd overall, 2010

There’s a belief out there that Jared Knight did not have a great season, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Knight’s goals were down, but he increased his point totals by 13, finishing with a team leading 70 in 68 games, and did so without the benefit of a dynamic linemate. He also led the team in goals in the playoffs, scoring four in six games. But perhaps the biggest gains were made in areas that don’t show up on the score sheet; leadership, play away from the puck, distribution, determination. There are more than a handful of scouts out there that believe Knight is a better prospect than Spooner, specifically because of his intangibles.

Perhaps the most telling sign that the Bruins appreciate Jared Knight‘s progression came at the trade deadline, where it’s believed that Brian Burke tried desperately to pry Knight away from the Bruins so that he could reunite Leafs top prospect Nazem Kadri, with the robust right winger. But Chiarelli opted instead to choose the other player on Burke’s list, promising 6’5 center Joe Colborne, allowing him to be included in the Kaberle deal, instead.

Knight finished up his season in Providence and had an immediate impact, recording two assists in three games on a line with Ryan Spooner and Jordan Caron. Like Spooner, Knight will have to return to London if he can’t crack the Bruins lineup. Knight has the grit, strength and determination to make a case for himself, but he’ll have some stiff competition in Spooner, as well as AHLers Jordan Caron and Max Sauve.

Tyler Randell, RW, Kitchener Rangers
Acquired: 6th round, 176th overall, 2009

There was some uncertainty this season as to what Tyler Randell‘s fate would be with the Boston Bruins. His scoring pace was down from last year, and if he didn’t sign a deal by year’s end he would have re-entered the draft. But to his credit, Randell played his heart out in a checking role on Kitchener’s third line and ultimately set career highs, collecting 32 points in 68 games. He’s as hard a worker as there is in the OHL, and a tough customer in the fisticuffs department. A Brandon Prust-type, and the Bruins saw enough from this gritty customer that they decided to bring him into the fold. Expect Randell to start the season in Providence next year, and to take a few years to continue refining his game.

WHL

Ryan Button, D, Prince Albert Raiders
Acquired: 3rd round, 86th overall, 2009

Ryan Button is one of Boston’s more intriguing defense prospects. He has tremendous mobility and athleticism to go along with a sizable 6’2 frame. But he’s never been able to carry the same offensive swagger shown in Bruins Development Camps over to the regular season. This year, he posted 35 points in 69 games for Prince Albert and Seattle of the WHL, which is actually two points short of his draft year totals from two years ago. Upon completion of his junior team’s season, Button joined the Providence Bruins for his first taste of pro hockey.

In Providence, Button again showed flashes of his impressive skill-set, breaking the puck out on his own, shaking forecheckers with his skating, and joining the rush, but once again, the production wasn’t there, as he recorded just one point in seven games. He’s finally eligible for full time duty in the AHL so it will be interesting to watch his development down there next year. A major question surrounding his development is whether or not he will become a legitimate defensive scoring threat or simply a mobile blue line presence, able to move the puck up ice but not create much offense from the back end.

Craig Cunningham, LW, Vancouver Giants
Acquired: 4th round, 97th overall, 2010

Craig Cunningham is having another strong season in the WHL. He put up 45 points in his first 35 games for Vancouver, when he was traded to the powerhouse Portland Winterhawks where, despite fewer minutes, he continued to score, posting 42 points in 36 games. Acquired for his leadership and Memorial Cup experience, Cunningham has not disappointed, scoring five goals and nine points in Portland’s first 10 playoff games.

Look for Cunningham to sign a pro contract at season’s end and join the Providence Bruins next fall.

USHL

Zane Gothberg, G, Fargo Force
Acquired: 6th round, 165th overall, 2010

Gothberg finished strong in his first full season with the Fargo Force of the USHL, posting a 14-8 record with a 2.23 goal against average and a .908 save percentage. Still just 18 years old, Gothberg backed up USHL veteran Ryan Massa and struggled with consistency issues early on, posting a lowly .878 save percent through the first third of the season, but better focus and sharper outings allowed him to pick up 30 percentage points by season’s end, tying him with Massa, arguably the best goalie in the league.

Gothberg is committed to North Dakota, but not until 2012. Look for him to take over the starting duties for Fargo next year.