Boston Bruins Depth Analysis, Fall 2011

By Bill Ladd
Photo: Doug Hamilton brings a rare blend of size, mobility, and offensive ability to the Bruins organization. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

The Bruins system is well stocked at all positions thanks to a slew of extra draft picks and some shrewd trades by GM Peter Chiarelli.

In each of the last two drafts, and in both the first and second rounds, the Bruins were able to make their selections considerably higher than where they actually finished.

The club has consistently espoused the ‘best player available’ philosophy, drafting based on talent and upside over needs, and while that has in fact led to a buildup at one position in particular, forward, the organization has been active on the trade market, acquiring depth on defense and in goal.

Left Wing

Left wing in the Bruins organization is a position of real strength. Not only is it the natural position of top forward prospect Jordan Caron, but several of the Bruins high-end center prospects, specifically Ryan Spooner and Alex Khokhlachev, also transition easily to the left side, an important caveat considering Boston’s current depth at center.

For now, Caron is the top dog on the left and has made the Bruins out of camp. The 2009 first rounder is known for his intelligence and strong two-way game. Big, and heavy on the puck, he has the potential to play a power forward’s game, though he has a somewhat tame temperament. Caron also possesses underrated hands and the kind of offensive game that complements skilled players well. He has second line upside but can also thrive in a third line role thanks to his mature defensive game.

At the AHL level Max Sauve, their second round draft pick in 2009 is coming off a productive rookie season that saw him score at a near 30-goal pace. He followed that with a strong training camp this fall where he was literally the last player cut from Boston’s opening night roster. A pure speedster with good one-on-one skills and surprising tenacity, Sauve projects as a second line scorer, and his training camp would suggest that he’s not far from making the leap.

Craig Cunningham has made the jump to the pros after four seasons in the WHL and is a prospect with intriguing upside. Undersized but a gritty, determined leader with plus skating and solid finesse skills, this fourth round pick could blossom into a top-six forward, but his intangibles would also make him well suited to a third line role.

2011 third round pick Anthony Camara rounds out the higher profile left wingers in the system. Camara is a feared pugilist in the OHL, but at development camp this summer he flashed surprising hands and offensive ability. The Bruins hope he can continue to round out his game and become the kind of NHL enforcer who can skate a regular shift on a third or fourth line.

Like Sauve, Lane MacDermid was among the final cuts in Boston this fall and is expected to continue developing in his role as Providence’s resident enforcer.

Power forward Justin Florek is following up a strong development camp with an explosive start at Northern Michigan. Florek could join Providence at season’s end.

Center

Boston likes to draft centers because they believe players who play the position have a higher hockey-IQ, and can easily be converted to wing down the line. With that philosophy in mind, it should come as no surprise that Boston’s three most talented offensive prospects, Ryan Spooner, Alex Khokhlachev, and 2008 ninth overall selection Zach Hamill, are all natural centers who may need to move to wing in order to crack Boston’s NHL roster.

Spooner had yet another strong training camp where, despite being cut at earlier than last year, was still arguably the best prospect in attendance. This fast, dynamic playmaker with outstanding one-on-one skills projects as a high-end second or low-end first line scorer. Unfortunately, Spooner is languishing offensively in Kitchener as the lone offensive presence on a team trying to rebuild, but reports indicate that he is working diligently on improving the other parts of his game.

Conversely, Alex Khokhlachev is flourishing with Windsor. Off to a strong start, the youngest player in last year’s draft looks like an absolute steal in the second round. This Russian born scorer has an Ovechkin-like enthusiasm for the game and despite the cultural boundaries has developed into a leader for the Spitfires. "Koko" may yet prove to have legitimate first line upside in the NHL.

Despite the fact that Zach Hamill was waived at the start of the season, he still could figure into the future of this organization. He came to camp this year having made noticeable gains in his strength and quickness and he is off to a strong start in Providence. A strong season from Hamill could put him back on track towards an NHL future, and to that end, the coaching staff in Providence is experimenting with Hamill on the wing to expand his versatility.

Under the heading "long shot", Carl Soderberg is still property of the Boston Bruins and got off to a Strong start in the SEL this season with Linkoping. Soderberg is an exciting prospect with size, speed, and offensive skills but his reluctance to cross the pond has made him a sore subject for Bruins fans.

Other long-term, long-shots include Ben Sexton and Nicholas Tremblay, who are both putting up a point-per-game at Clarkson University.

Right Wing

Jared Knight headlines Boston’s right wingers. The pit-bull from Michigan had a strong training camp and is off to a good start on a resurgent London squad where he has eight goals and 14 points in 14 games. Knight drives the net better than any player in junior hockey and his best weapon is a howitzer of a wrist shot that he gets off quickly and with accuracy, but it’s his intangibles that make him such a prized prospect for Boston, and a leader for London.

A somewhat underrated prospect in the Bruins organization is the speedy Jamie Arniel. Providence’s leading scorer from last year, plays a gritty, high-energy game and puts the puck on net from anywhere and everywhere, firing 262 shots on goal last year. Arniel projects as a third line winger and has the kind of game that could see him transition to the NHL in a fourth line role.

Undrafted college free agent Carter Camper was a Hobey Baker finalist last year, capping off a sensational college career that saw him put up 183 points in 156 games. Camper is undersized and lacks elite speed, but he has exceptional hockey sense and the hands to match.

The surprise of this summer’s development camp was 2011 fourth round pick, Brian Ferlin. The Jacksonville, Florida native is a late bloomer and was an overage draftee but so far he’s made the Bruins look smart for taking a chance on him. After shining at development camp, Ferlin went to Team USA’s World Junior camp and once again stood out, putting up a point per game and playing a physical, energetic, brand of two-way hockey.

Tyler Randell is in his first pro season with Providence and has adapted his rugged game well. Yannick Riendeau was originally cut from Providence, but has since earned a call back. Harvard’s Alex Fallstrom is another big, industrious two-way winger in the B’s system who’s intelligent game and lack of offense suggest he may be more of a defensive specialist as a pro.

Defense

The jewel of the Bruin’s prospect system is defenseman Doug Hamilton. At 6’5 and still growing, Hamilton has everything you want in a franchise defenseman; shut-down ability, offensive moxie, skating, hitting and intelligence. He was outstanding in Boston’s development and training camps but didn’t have the strength to play his physical brand of hockey against men. He’s off to an explosive start for Niagara, putting up 23 points in 14 games, good for fifth best on the OHL scoring race. If he can add some muscle mass to his frame he has an excellent chance for a spot in Boston’s top-six next fall.

Steven Kampfer was a revelation last season as the unheralded Michigan product got off to a dominant start in the AHL in his first pro season and then was quickly called up to Boston. With the big club, he continued to surprise and impress, earning nearly 18 minutes of ice time per game and providing a much needed puck moving presence until injuries and the trade that brought in Tomas Kaberle pushed him out of the lineup. Given the Bruins early offensive struggles this season, Kampfer could once again prove valuable in a relief role, and has the potential to develop into a solid, second pair puck-mover with grit and a willing physical game.

For the second year in a row, Matt Bartkowski put together a strong training camp and preseason, but he couldn’t translate that success to the regular season and was eventually returned to Providence. Another one of Chiarelli’s under-the-radar trades, Bartkowski is already Providence’s number one defenseman, but at age 23, it’s important for him to show growth this season or he risks being branded as a so-called "4A" player; better than most at the AHL level, but not quite good enough for the NHL.

Tommy Cross has gotten off to a good start with the top-ranked BC Eagles. The senior Captain has three points in six games and has looked healthy and hungry for another national title. Cross projects as a steady, defense-first defenseman who can move the puck smartly, not unlike current Bruin Dennis Seidenberg.

Two recent trade acquisitions and products of Boston University are David Warsofsky and Colby Cohen. Warsofsky is a gifted offensive defenseman who skates well and plays with confidence and bravado, but lacks size. Cohen has the size and is a solid puck mover, but isn’t a great skater and hasn’t yet learned to fully apply his size and strength advantage. The pair has combined for five points in eight games but more is expected.

Maxim Chudinov has steadily become an impact player in the KHL. He’s Severstal’s number one defenseman, capable of playing both special teams and against top lines, and is producing at nearly a point per game offensively. Chudinov’s KHL contract ends this year and it’s believed he intends to come over for Boston’s development camp this summer.

Lost in the shuffle of defensemen in Providence has been skilled puck mover Ryan Button. In two games he recorded no points and was a minus one, and the returns of Matt Bartkowski from Boston, and Andrew Bodnarchuk from IR pushed him out of the lineup. Button is raw but has a tremendous skill-set, combining size, skating and offensive moxie, but he’s struggled to put those tools together and produce up to his talent level.

Andrew Bodnarchuk, now in his fourth pro season, is the veteran on Providence’s defense. Small, but mobile, determined and competitive, Bodnarchuk has reinvented himself as a two-way player in the mold of Andrew Ference. With only one, five game call-up on his resume, Bodnarchuk doesn’t appear to be in Boston’s long range plans.

Marc Cantin was an undrafted signee out of Missisauga of the OHL. He has an impressive junior resume, with a career plus-119, he’s a Memorial Cup winner with Windsor, and has appeared in over 75 playoff games. His transition to the AHL however, hasn’t been as smooth, and he has struggled in his own end. Cantin projects as a classic, stay-at-home, defenseman with leadership qualities.

Zach Trotman is one the Bruins more underrated prospects. The Lake Superior State junior impressed at this summer’s development camp and has steadily improved his puckmoving and offensive games. He’s off to a career-best start, with two goals and five points in six games.

Goaltending

The Bruins have a pair of intriguing goaltenders in Zane Gothberg and Lars Volden. Both were drafted as projects, expected to take four or more years to develop into pro ready goaltenders and so far they’re development is on track. Gothberg is currently 2-5-1 with a .911 save percent for Fargo of the USHL, while Volden is 1-0-1 with a .908 for the Espoo Blues in the Finnish Elite League.