Payload of Boston Bruins prospects ready to graduate from AHL

By Tony Piscotta
Photo: Seth Griffith leads the Providence Bruins in scoring with 31 points after returning from an early-season injury. (Courtesy of Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

Photo: Seth Griffith leads the Providence Bruins in scoring with 31 points after returning from an early-season injury. (Courtesy of Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

 

 

With six draft choices in the first two rounds of the 2015 NHL Draft the Boston Bruins have several high-end prospects playing in junior hockey and at the college level. When it comes to pro hockey, things are equally promising as several players are either on the cusp of cracking the NHL lineup or are currently in their first season with the Bruins.

That process has left the lineup for the AHL’s Providence Bruins in a state of flux—leading to some inconsistency in the first few months of the season—but in the long term it could bode well for the future.

Among the players that were expected to be in Providence but are now skating for Boston, none has been a bigger surprise than first-year pro Frankie Vatrano. The speedy winger scored 10 goals with two assists in 10 AHL games, earning a promotion to Boston. In 22 NHL games with the Bruins he has five goals with one assist.

Defenseman Colin Miller, obtained from the Kings as part of the Milan Lucic trade in June, has been with Boston all season after spending his first two pro seasons with the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs. Minor league veteran forwards Landon Ferraro and Tyler Randell, as well as defenseman Joe Morrow, have also spent the season with Boston—seeing limited time.

AHL

Malcolm Subban, G, 22

Now in his third pro season, the 2012 first-round pick is steadily working his way back into form after missing the start of the year due to injury. Making his first start of the year on October 30th against Portland, he has appeared in 17 games for Providence. He is 10-8-3 with one shutout and his 2.65 goals against and .907 save percentage are slightly higher than his career bests. Those numbers have been coming down as Providence has worked its way out of the last-place spot in the Atlantic Division. Subban continues to mature in terms of his positional play and appears to be developing at a sustained pace.

Zane McIntyre, G, 23

One of the top goalies in college hockey in his final two seasons at the University of North Dakota before signing with the Bruins following his junior season last spring, McIntyre was thrown directly into the fire as a professional after the injury to Subban. Starting seven games in October, he has appeared in six games since Subban’s return. Despite the struggles not uncommon for a first-year pro he too appears on track and is steadily adapting to the higher skill level of professional scorers. He is 6-6-3 with a 2.93 goals against and .887 save percentage.

Linus Arnesson, D, 21

Arnesson is in his first full season with Providence after skating in 11 AHL games at the end of 2014-15, making his debut following an SHL season with Djurgardens. Seeing limited ice time on a defense corps with veterans Brett Bellemore, Matt Irwin, Tommy Cross and Christopher Breen, Arnesson is minus-4 and has one assist in 24 games. The 60th player taken in the 2013 draft, Arnesson’s size and skating ability suggest he can be a solid two-way defenseman as he adds the bulk and experience necessary to compete in North America.

Chris Casto, D, 24

Casto is in the third season with Providence after signing an entry-level deal with Boston in March 2013 following his sophomore season at Minnesota-Duluth. Yet to appear in an NHL game, Casto has already bettered the 12 points he had in 62 games last season; he has three goals with 10 assists in his first 27 games. The Stillwater, MN native has a rare combination of size and skating ability and continues to put the elements of his game together. Whether he can one day crack what has been a sound Bruins blueline remains to be seen.

David Pastrnak RW, 19

Whether it is a sophomore slump or the normal struggles associated with a teenager competing in the NHL, this season has been a challenging one for the talented Czech forward. Opening the year with the Bruins, he scored two goals with two assists and was minus-3 with eight penalty minutes in 10 NHL games before going down with his foot injury. He skated in two games with Providence before joining the Czech Republic U20 team at the 2016 World Juniors. Long-term it is expected that Pastrnak will get things turned around and become a valuable part of the Boston lineup, adding the strength and positional awareness to get the most out of his significant ability.

Seth Griffith, RW, 22

Griffith suffered a knee injury in a preseason game against New Jersey and he has been skating for Providence since returning in late October. Griffith had three assists in a 5-3 win over Lehigh Valley in his first game back on October 23rd, and is the team’s leading scorer (tied with Alexander Khokhlachev) with 10 goals and 21 assists in 28 games. Now in his second pro season, Griffith has been a consistent scorer at every level despite his lack of stature. As he becomes more well-rounded in the other areas of his game his NHL potential will become more clear.

Brian Ferlin, RW, 23

Ferlin, a native of Jacksonville, Florida, appeared in seven games with Boston as a first-year pro last year. He skated in the season opener for Providence, suffering an upper-body injury, and has yet to return. With the ideal size and demeanor of a true two-way power forward, the former Cornell Big Red winger fits the bill of a prototypical Bruins’ winger. How much his injury sets back his development will determine his long-term potential.

Justin Hickman, RW, 21

Signed by the Bruins as a free agent to an entry-level contract in March 2015 following an overage season with the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds, Hickman has played mostly a lower-line, energy role for the P-Bruins in his first pro season. With over 466 penalty minutes in 285 WHL games during his junior career, Hickman is a willing combatant capable of both coming to the aid of teammates or trying to change the emotions of a game. Whether he is skilled enough to play in an NHL that no longer places a premium on that role remains to be seen.

Anthony Camara, LW, 22

Camara is another player who has missed significant time due to injury to start the 2015-16 season. Now in his third pro season after scoring 36 goals in 50 regular season games for Barrie in his final season of junior hockey, he has played mostly a crash-and-bang role with Providence. In 14 games this season he has one goal and is minus-4 while accumulating 31 penalty minutes. Still a fairly young player, Camara’s attitude and competitive nature suggest some potential as a lower-line NHL forward. With depth in the Bruins system, that opportunity may come elsewhere.

Anton Blidh, RW, 20

Blidh is in his first season with Providence after coming over from Sweden and has experienced the growing pains often associated with playing in pro hockey as a 20-year-old. Skating in 35 of 37 games for the Bruins to this point, he is among the team leaders with eight goals but is minus-5 with no assists and 18 penalty minutes. A sixth-round pick in the 2013 draft who was signed last spring after skating for Frolunda, Blidh is still in the early stages of development. He is not overly physical and can be a liability in his own end at times but there are elements to his game that suggest he can be a supplementary scorer at the NHL level.

Colton Hargrove, LW, 23

Hargrove was a seventh-round pick in 2012 and is in his first year of pro hockey. Signed last spring following his junior season at Western Michigan University, Hargrove is a big-bodied forward with some scoring ability. In 29 games with Providence to this point he’s scored eight goals and seven assists, and is minus-2 with 34 penalty minutes. Not a purely gifted player in terms of his skating and stick skills, Hargrove’s combination of scoring instincts, size and competitiveness fits the Bruins model.

Alexander Khokhlachev, C, 22

Now in his third pro season with Providence it is easy to forget that the dynamic center from Moscow is still just 22 years old. Recalled twice earlier in the season for a pair of two-game stints with the Bruins, he has been a consistent scorer for the AHL club but has yet to record his first NHL point. A gifted offensive playmaker rather than a pure scorer, Khokhlachev makes the players around him better. The Bruins continue to bring him along slowly, allowing him to develop his all-around game and add the strength and mass necessary to play consistently in the NHL. Providence’s co-leading scorer with Griffith, he has 11 goals with 20 assists and an even plus/minus in his first 26 games.

Zack Phillips, C, 23

Acquired from Minnesota last March in exchange for right wing Jared Knight in a swap of former high profile junior prospects, Phillips is now in his fourth AHL season. In 33 games with Providence he has scored five goals and eight assists, and is minus-12 with six penalty minutes. With his skill set it is possible that Phillips will one day become an effective NHL forward. To this point he remains a work in progress.

Austin Czarnik, C, 23

A teammate of fellow Bruins prospect Sean Kuraly during his college career at Miami University, Czarnik is the third-leading scorer for Providence in his first pro season. Signed as an undrafted free agent following his senior season with the Redhawks, he is another small, speedy scorer with the ability to create chances by reading the play. In 30 games with Providence he has ten goals and 17 assists with 10 penalty minutes.

Colby Cave, C, 21

Another player signed as a free agent last spring, Cave is in his first pro season with the P-Bruins following a four-year WHL career with the Swift Current Broncos. Steadily adapting to the pace and level of play in the pro game, he is one of two players (Bellemore is the other) to skate in all 37 games for Providence. Tied for fourth with seven goals, he also has six assists for 13 points. Signed to a three-year deal, Cave should continue to develop the other aspects of his game while adding the strength necessary to be an effective third or fourth line forward.

Ben Sexton, C, 24

Sexton continues to be snake bitten with injuries in his second pro season. After suffering a knee injury that kept him out until January in 2014-15—when he played 35 games for Providence—he has skated in seven games this year. The former Clarkson University forward needed surgery for a hand injury during training camp, missing the start of the year, and underwent surgery for a wrist injury in November. He is currently on the mend.

Noel Acciari, C, 24

Acciari is in his first season of pro hockey after signing an entry-level contract in June following his junior season at Providence College. The second-leading scorer for the national champion Friars last year, he has gradually adjusted to the level of play at the AHL in a lower line role. In 25 games for the P-Bruins he has scored four goals and four assists. A native of nearby Johnston, Rhode Island, Acciari plays a responsible positional game. Not a pure scorer, he can create chances with his hockey instincts.

Boston Bruins Prospects at the 2016 World Junior Championships

The Bruins had six prospects participating in the tournament in Finland—with Pastrnak joining defenseman Jakub Zboril to skate for the Czech Republic just before the tournament started. Both players had prominent roles for the team in Group B play. After missing the team’s 2-1 shootout loss to Russia in their first game, Pastrnak scored one goal with one assist in the next two games of pool play. Zboril was ejected for boarding in the first period of the loss to Russia and had one assist in his first three games.

Tri-City Americans defenseman Brandon Carlo—one of three second round picks in 2015 logged significant ice time for Team USA and was one of three Bruins prospects on the squad. Anders Bjork, who had 16 points in 17 games for Notre Dame as a sophomore before joining Team USA—and Harvard freshman Ryan Donato—were productive in lower line roles in the tournament.

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, another second round pick in 2015, skated for Sweden. The Stockholm native spent the past two seasons in the USHL and is one of the leading scorers for Boston University as a freshman.

Prospect of the Month: Jeremy Lauzon

Jeremy Lauzon - Boston BruinsJeremy Lauzon was the last of six players taken by the Bruins in the first two rounds of the 2015 NHL Draft. He has been one of the QMJHL’s top defensemen as an 18-year-old. Now in his third season with Rouyn-Noranda, Lauzon is the Huskies’ third-leading scorer behind forwards Francis Perron and Jean-Christophe Beaudin, while maintaining a strong defensive presence in his own end.

Lauzon skated for the QMJHL all-star team against Russia during the CHL Canada Russia Series in November and earned an invitation to the final evaluation camp for Team Canada prior to the 2016 World Junior Championships. With 34 points in 27 games he is second only to Shawinigan’s Samuel Girard in scoring amongst QMJHL defensemen. In nine games in November he scored one goal with nine assists and was plus-7 with 18 penalty minutes. Lauzon signed a three-year entry-level contract with Boston on November 12th.

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