Several Boston Bruins prospects ready to graduate in 2015-16

By Tony Piscotta
Photo: The beginning of Matt Grzelcyk’s 2015-16 season has been delayed as he recovers from offseason knee surgery. (Courtesy of Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

Photo: The beginning of Matt Grzelcyk’s 2015-16 season has been delayed as he recovers from offseason knee surgery. (Courtesy of Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

 

 

Perhaps no franchise epitomizes the “What have you done for me lately?” nature of the National Hockey League more so than the Boston Bruins. Boston reached the NHL finals twice in a three-year span, winning a Stanley Cup Championship in 2010-11 and just two seasons ago won 54 games—the most since the Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito days in 1971-72.

After missing the playoffs last year for the first time since 2006-07, however, General Manager Peter Chiarelli and three of the Bruins’ top scouts were let go. Fortunately for Boston fans, the cupboard is far from bare, with the former personnel group drafting or acquiring several prospects who should crack the lineup in the coming years.

Coming off a subpar season in 2014-15, goalie Tuukka Rask is still just 28-years-old and remains a fixture in net. Should the goalie from Finland continue to struggle, Boston appears to have two potential number one goalies on the way. Zane McIntyre and former first-round pick Malcolm Subban form a solid tandem with the AHL’s Providence Bruins, but the jump from minor league hockey to the NHL is a big one.

Boston surprised some by jettisoning defensemen Dougie Hamilton, the ninth-overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, to Calgary in a blockbuster trade last spring. Veterans Adam McQuaid and Zdeno Chara anchor a Bruins defense corps that has undergone significant change over the past two years. Undersized Torey Krug provides offense from the back end but the real excitement is in some of the junior prospects, such as 2015 draft picks Jakub Zboril (1st round, 13th overall) and Brandon Carlo (2nd round, 37th overall).

Veteran David Krejci is off to a fast start. He and Patrice Bergeron are among the league’s better centerman, but the rest of the forward group is a collection of young players looking to make a name for themselves or veteran forwards more suited to a two-way role than that of a high-end scorer. One exception is 19-year-old David Pastrnak. The Czech native burst onto the scene as a teenager after joining Boston mid-season last year, finishing with 10 goals and 17 assists in 46 NHL games. The book is still out on former high-round picks Ryan Spooner and Alexander Khokhlachev but both have significant offensive skill sets.

Pro

Top Pro Prospect
David Pastrnak, RW, Boston Bruins (NHL)

Still a teenager, the Bruins’ first pick in 2014 has made an impact for Boston much sooner than expected. Pastrnak’s lack of bulk and physical maturity can be a disadvantage at times, but he has shown an awareness in all three zones that is rare for a player his age. He has a combination of speed and offensive instincts that make him dangerous and he is willing to go into the tough areas to create scoring chances.

Offensive Breakout
Ryan Spooner, C, Boston Bruins (NHL)

Now in his fourth pro season, Spooner is looking to stick with Boston on a full-time basis after spitting the last two seasons between the Bruins and its AHL affiliate Providence. A point-per-game player during his junior days in the OHL, Spooner scored eight goals with 10 assists in 29 games for the Bruins last year and has added the bulk and strength necessary to compete at the NHL level. While he does not have the size of former Bruin Milan Lucic (LAK), Spooner is one of the players expected to pick up some of the scoring production Lucic provided during his eight seasons in Boston. 



NHL-bound Prospect
Joe Morrow, D, Providence Bruins (AHL)

A first-round pick by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2011, Morrow is with his third NHL organization after being acquired by Dallas from the Penguins before coming to the Bruins as part of the Tyler Seguin trade. Entering his fourth pro season, Morrow played in 15 NHL games with Boston in 2014-15 and appears ready to assume a full-time role this season. Slowed by an illness at the start of the year, he is not likely to put up the big offensive numbers that he did during his junior days with the Portland Winterhawks, but Morrow is a strong two-way defenseman and has a heavy shot from the point.

Unsigned for 2015-16
Alexander Khokhlachev, C, Providence Bruins (AHL)

Khokhlachev has not been shy about his impatience with the amount of time it has taken to move up from AHL affiliate Providence to the big club in Boston. Selected in the second round after Hamilton in 2011, he cameoed in his first NHL game in 2013-14, and played in three games with Boston last season. A native of Moscow who spent two seasons with the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires, Khokhlachev led the P-Bruins in scoring in each of his first two seasons. Slightly undersized by NHL standards, he is off to another fast start for Providence this year. If he remains in the AHL this year it would not be surprising to see him seek a trade or bolt for the KHL next season.

Junior

Top Junior Prospect

Jakub Zboril, D, St. John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)

Zboril was the first of Boston’s three straight first-round picks in 2015, going 13th overall. His combination of size, skating ability, and offensive instincts make him an interesting NHL prospect. He signed an entry-level contract with Boston in July and there were thoughts that he might make the jump directly to the NHL as an 18-year-old before he was returned to the Sea Dogs at the end of September. Zboril’s unique combination of skills suggest he can be a top NHL defenseman one day, provided he puts those elements together and displays the consistency necessary to be successful.

New Team in 2015-16
Jesse Gabrielle, LW, Prince George Cougars (WHL)

Gabrielle, a thickly-built two-way forward from Saskatchewan, will be with his third WHL team in as many seasons after splitting last season between the Brandon Wheat Kings and the Regina Pats. The Cougars have struggled to compete in the league’s B.C. Division, reaching the playoffs just three times in the last eight years, but Gabrielle is expected to flourish in an expanded role with the club. Prince George has one of the younger teams in the WHL, and Gabrielle was leading the Cougars with four goals in the team’s first seven games. A fourth-round selection in the 2015 NHL Draft, Gabrielle is viewed as more of a two-way player than a pure scorer and adds a physical element to the lineup.

Offensive Breakout
Zachary Senyshyn, RW, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)

After going pretty much by the book with their first two first-rounders in 2015—taking Swift Current Broncos left wing Jake DeBrusk after Zboril—the Bruins surprised many with their third pick as Senyshyn was viewed as more of a second-round prospect by many draft observers. A native of Nepean, Ontario, Senyshyn scored 26 goals in 66 regular season games for the Greyhounds last year, but that was on a loaded team with gifted offensive players like Sergey Tolchinsky, Jared McCann and defenseman Anthony DeAngelo. With all of those players now in the pro ranks, Senyshyn has gotten off to a fast start with Sault Ste. Marie, scoring six goals in the team’s first 10 games. 

Amateur

Top Amateur Prospect
Matt Grzelcyk, D, Boston University (Hockey East)

The Bruins do not have as many high-end prospects in the college ranks as they do in pro or major junior, but Grzelcyk certainly bears watching. Similar in stature to Krug, Grzelcyk had a breakout season for Boston University as a junior captain with the Terriers. In 41 games he scored 10 goals with 28 assists and was plus-32, as BU was one of the nation’s top teams and reached the Frozen Four championship game. Jack Eichel, who won the Hobey Baker Award as a freshman, signed a pro contract with Buffalo after being drafted last spring, but the Terriers are once again expected to have a strong squad—and Grzelcyk figures to be in the middle of things. 

Unsigned for 2016-17
Rob O’Gara, D, Yale University (ECAC)

O’Gara, like Grzelcyk, heads into his senior season after a breakout junior campaign. While not as highly-skilled nor offensively-inclined as his Terrier counterpart, O’Gara has the ideal size of an NHL defenseman and projects as a strong two-way defender. He does not play an overly punishing style despite his huge frame—and the Bruins are deep in defense prospects—but O’Gara could earn an entry-level contract with another strong season for the Bulldogs.

Freshman to Watch
Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C, Boston University (Hockey East)

Forsbacka Karlsson is another of the players selected in the 2015 NHL Draft, taken with the 45th overall pick in the second round. The Stockholm, Sweden native spent two seasons in the USHL with Omaha, leading the Lancers in scoring last year with 15 goals and 38 assists in 50 games. Stepping into the lineup for Boston University as an 18-year-old, Forsbacka-Karlsson is one of several talented freshmen for the Terriers who are expected to help fill the void created when Eichel left to play pro hockey. He is also a candidate to play for Sweden in the 2016 World Junior Championships in Finland.

Europe

Top Prospect
Peter Cehlarik, LW, Lulea HF (SHL)

The Bruins have just two prospects still in Europe, both of whom are playing in the SHL—Lulea’s Cehlarik and HV71’s Emil Johanssen. Of the two, Cehlarik shows the most promise, though neither has signed an entry-level contract. The second of two players from Sweden selected by the Bruins in the 2013 draft, Cehlarik is a solid, if unspectacular lower line winger for Lulea as a 20-year-old. He has shown steady progress and has an offensive side to his game to go with his technical skills and sound positional play. He is not overly combative, but that could change as he adds bulk to his frame.

Bounceback Prospect
Emil Johansson, D, HV71 (SHL)

Johansson was taken with the 206th pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, and like most seventh round picks, faces long odds in one day skating in the NHL. What makes him an interesting prospect is his combination of skating ability and a projectable frame that suggests he can add strength and bulk to be a prototypical defender. To his credit, Johansson appeared in 35 games in the SHL as an 18-year-old and he is expected to see more significant minutes in 2015-16. Johansson is still far from being a sure thing—particularly in an organization that is fairly well-stocked with defensemen. If he is to earn an entry-level deal with the Bruins his potential ceiling is likely that of a lower pairing defensive defender.