AHL affiliate for Boston Bruins struggling mightily this season

By Bill Ladd
Photo: In his second professional season, Matt Bartkowski has displayed the puck-moving prowess that made him a standout at Ohio State University. Like much of the Providence roster however, he has struggled mightily at times this season, particularly in his own zone. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

After a disappointing 2010-11 season, the Providence Bruins made several changes, they fired their head coach and promoted his assistant Butch Cassidy, they brought in several proven AHL veterans to help improve the on-ice product and provide Boston’s prospects with more talent to play with, and they added a few more talented rookies to the mix. However, the changes have not resulted in a better product, as Providence sits in 14th place in the Eastern Conference standing. Prospects who showed promise by standing out in training camp against NHL talent are struggling to produce in the minors. Another coaching change may be in order this summer, but for now, the Bruins have to look within to right the ship.

AHL

Jamie Arniel, C/RW, 22

Jamie Arniel is a great example of what’s going wrong in Providence. Last year, Arniel scored 23 goals and 52 points, this year he has two goals and eight points through 41 games. This is a young, tough, energetic forward who’s well schooled in the game. He plays a hard and determined game yet his offensive growth is going in reverse.

At the beginning of the season, there was talk that Arniel would be one of the first injury call-ups, but his play cost him a golden opportunity, when Gregory Campbell suffered a fractured foot. The fourth line center role would have been an ideal starting point for the energetic Arniel, but the Bruins opted for Zach Hamill instead.

Matt Bartkowski, D, 24

Like the rest of Providence’s returnees, Bartkowski has taken a step back this season. He continues to play a prominent role in Providence but his points and shots are down and his minus-11 is among the worst on the team. He also hasn’t looked as comfortable in his call-ups to Boston as he did last year. As one of the older players in Providence, it’s important that Bartkowski find a way to battle through and raise his game. He may only get a few chances with Boston before they turn their attention to younger players like Colby Cohen and David Warsofsky.

Ryan Button, D, 20

Ryan Button‘s first pro season has been a learning experience. He’s seen limited time in Providence as their sixth or seventh defenseman, meaning that when he’s not scratched he plays limited minutes. The young defenseman has a wealth of puck-moving skills, but struggles with his decision making. In fact, he seems to struggle with the basic decision of what he is: a puckmover or more of a mobile, stay-at-home type. He practices like a renegade offenseman, but he plays the game with extreme conservatism. As a result, he’s not thriving at either. Spooner has split the season thus far between Providence and the Reading Royals of the ECHL.

Carter Camper, C/RW, 23

Carter Camper is one of the few bright spots in Providence this season. The undrafted free agent Boston signed out of Miami (Ohio) leads the P-Bruins in scoring with nine goals and 25 points in 40 games. The rookie has worked his way onto the top line and is now a fixture on the power play where his vision and playmaking are at their best.

Colby Cohen, D, 22

Colby Cohen had a strong showing in Boston’s training camp in September. He was paired primarily with one of Boston’s quicker rearguards in Andy Ference, and the two formed a complementary pair that looked strong throughout the preseason. However, things have not gone as smoothly for Cohen in Providence. His points-per-game is up slightly, but his minus-four is indicative of the struggles he’s had defending five-on-five. Of course, it could also be indicative of a team that looks disorganized. Still, Cohen must continue to work on his skating and bringing a more consistent physical game to the rink on a nightly basis.

Craig Cunningham, C/W, 21

Craig Cunningham has seized the opportunity recently given to him by Providence Coach Butch Cassidy. After spending the first quarter of the season playing in the bottom-six, Cassidy finally gave Cunningham a shot on a scoring line with AHL veterans Josh Hennessy and Jamie Tardif and Cunningham responded well, potting three goals and six points in seven games on that line. Cunningham only has 14 points on the season, but if he’s able to stick in a scoring role those numbers shoot up over the second half of his rookie season.

Zach Hamill, C/RW, 23

Zach Hamill is a great example of the dichotomy going on between Boston and Providence right now. Zach came to training camp noticeably stronger and quicker. He opened eyes in Boston’s preseason games with his smart two way play and creative passing game. It seemed as if he was finally going to have a breakthrough year, then he was sent to Providence. In Providence, he’s gone weeks without scoring and was in the midst of a cold streak when he was recalled to Boston in mid-December. In Boston, he continues to impress, recording two points in three games, creating scoring chances for his linemates, and making heady defensive plays in his own zone. He quickly cooled off though and was held pointless in the following nine games, giving him two assists and a plus-five through 12 NHL games.

Michael Hutchinson, G, 22

‘Hutch’ is having a solid sophomore season in Providence. He’s in a reduced role, as the backup to Anton Khudobin but, as expected, he’s benefitting from having that proven AHL presence on the team and playing in front of him. Thrust into the starters role last year, Hutchinson was wildly inconsistent, and ultimately was sent down to Reading of the ECHL to get his game back on track. This season, his goals against average is down, going from a 3.13 last year to a 2.59 this season, and his save percentage is up from a .904 to .915 through 11 games.

Lane MacDermid, LW, 22

MacDermid had a strong showing in Boston’s training camp. The Providence enforcer continues to show growth in all areas of his game and has worked hard to make himself into the kind of pugilist who can be counted on for regular minutes. Not unlike Boston’s Shawn Thornton. In fact, it would seem as though Boston is grooming MacDermid to be Thornton’s successor in that department. MacDermid currently has nine fighting majors and eight points through 40 games.

Maxime Sauve, LW, 21

Max Sauve had an impressive showing at Boston’s training camp. The slick, speedy forward lasted until the final roster cut. Unfortunately, he didn’t use that positive experience to jump start his season in Providence. Like many returning players, his numbers are down across the board. Last year he managed 38 points through 61 games. This season he is managing only .25 points per game. As disappointing as those numbers are, what’s more concerning is the fact that he’s once again battling various injuries this season, everything from hand and wrist problems to a concussion.

David Warsofsky, D, 21

Warsofsky was one of Boston’s more heralded prospects coming into this season. The BU product had a tremendous college and junior career, so hopes were high that he’d come in and have a strong first pro season. He started off well; Warsofsky dominated the rookie games and then looked very comfortable and productive in preseason action as well as Boston’s full camp. In Providence, Warsofsky was making steady progress, putting up four points in October, then six points in November, but he hit a bit of a cold stretch in December, going on a six game scoring drought and recording just three points in the month. Still, the diminutive puck mover has been one of Providence’s best players. He’s third on the team in scoring with 16 points in 33 games, he runs their power play, and has been a dependable even-strength contributor. While hopes were high for David Warsofsky, he remains one of the few bright spots in Providence this season.

Marc Cantin, D, 21

Undrafted free agent Marc Cantin has split much of this season between Providence and Reading. The rugged, stay-at-home blueliner hadn’t registered a point with Providence but what is more concerning is he is a minus-seven.


ECHL

Yannick Riendeau, RW, 23

Yannick Riendeau may be playing his way out of the Bruins organization. Another one of Boston’s undrafted free-agent signings, Ridendeau simply hasn’t found a way to contribute in Providence. In the ECHL, he’s a fairly prolific scoring winger, putting up 29 points in 30 games, but in his third pro season, he doesn’t appear any faster or stronger. Riendeau’s entry level contract expires this summer and if he doesn’t turn things around it is safe to assume he won’t be re-signed.

Adam Courchaine, G, 22

Adam Courchaine is having a strong second pro season for the Alaska Aces of the ECHL. After posting a .907 save percent over 27 games last year, he’s up to a gaudy .938 this season. He also boasts a 12-1-3 record. The big, butterfly goalie is considered a long-shot to make it the NHL, but the ECHL has traditionally been a great developmental league for goalies and if Courchaine can maintain his current level of play, it won’t be long before he graduates to the AHL.