Spring top-20 for Boston Bruins flush with complementary talent

By Bill Ladd
Photo: Dougie Hamilton is by far and away the top prospect in the Boston system and one of the top defensive prospects in all of hockey. (Photo courtesy of CHL Images)

The Bruins top-20 has seen a lot of change this season with players moving up and down the list, and in some cases, off the list entirely. However, the one constant this year has been the play of prized prospect Dougie Hamilton. Hamilton was a dominant offensive force throughout the year and made significant gains in his defensive play as the season wore on. Big risers for the Bruins this year were Maxim Chudinov and Brian Ferlin, while Zach Hamill, Anthony Camara, and Ryan Button dropped precipitously. The Bruins were also careful not to deal away any of their prime assets at the trade deadline and are poised to infuse their AHL affiliate with some quality players over the next two years.
1. (1) Dougie Hamilton, D, 8.5C
Drafted by 1st round, 9th overall, 2011

Dougie Hamilton's 2011-12 OHL season was an absolute tour de force, putting up 17 goals, 72 points and a plus-37 in just 50 games with Niagara. To put that in context, if Hamilton had been able to play as many games this year as he did last year, he would have finished with 26 goals, 100 points and a plus-50. He was voted the best offensive defenseman and second best defensive defenseman in his conference in the annual OHL Coach's Poll. He won the OHL's Defenseman of the Month award three out of six times and is a shoe-in to win the league's Defenseman of the Year award.

The most memorable moment of Hamilton's 2011-12 season was the show he put on in the third period of the Canada-Russia World Junior semifinal where he played an integral part in Canada's four-goal rally which ended up falling one tally short. Ironically, it was also his play at the World Juniors that opened people's eyes to some of his defensive shortcomings as well. Hamilton is a converted forward and as such, plays an aggressive, attacking game. He is sometimes caught out of position chasing big hits and big plays though it is not a major concern.

In a December statement to the press, Chiarelli stated that he was very pleased with Hamilton's development and expects him to push for a job in Boston in the fall, with number-one potential down the road.

2. (3) Ryan Spooner, C/LW, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 45th overall, 2010

Ryan Spooner had a tough year filled with injuries, illness and a trade. He started the season playing for a bad team in Kingston, but the experience helped him evolve into a more complete player. After picking up just nine points in 16 games, Spooner started to embrace the defensive side of the game and earned time on the PK. Oddly enough, that's when things started to around for him offensively. Over the next 13 games, he'd pick up seven shorthanded goals and 23 points.

In the Subway Super Series, Spooner was the best player on the ice for the OHL, racking up eight points in two games and wearing the assistant captain's "A" for both contests and was voted Player of the Game for his five point effort in game two. Just when things started going in the right direction, he was traded to Sarnia and contracted mono. The illness prevented him from competing for his country at the World Juniors, and kept him out of action entirely for a full calendar month.

When Spooner came back he was visibly weaker, but still managed to put up 34 points in 30 games for Sarnia. So, while 66 points in 57 games is a little disappointing for a player of Spooner's talent and experience, it helps to understand the struggles he went through during the season. Despite being banged up, he headed to Providence where he's already contributed.

3. (4) Alexander Khokhlachev, C/LW, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 40th overall, 2011

Khokhlachev's numbers this season aren't that much better than last year but he was able to produce with a much younger and less experienced supporting cast in his second season in Windsor. He's become part of the leadership core there which is impressive for a Russian born player who didn't speak any English until he arrived in camp two years ago. Perhaps what's most remarkable about Khokhlachev is his ability to be whatever his team needs him to be: In Windsor, he was the driving force behind the offense; at the World Juniors, he stood out for his complimentary play with Nail Yakupov. Khokhlachev played both center and wing for the Russians. He tailored his game to suit the talents he was playing with and finished the tournament with four goals in seven games.

It's that kind of intelligence and versatility that will end up being Khokhlachev's ticket to the NHL. He doesn't quite possess the skating of Spooner or the power of Jared Knight, but there are elements of both in Koko's game.

4. (5) Jared Knight, RW/LW, 7C
Drafted 2nd round, 32nd overall, 2010

Knight turned in another point-per-game season for London. The B's top American-born prospect's offensive numbers (26 goals and 26 assists) may not be that exciting on face value but he played on all three top lines this season, all special teams, and in every role from first line scorer, to checking line shadow, to rookie mentor. He wore a letter and helped guide the Knights to the best record in the OHL. Knight is also tough as nails, battling through two concussions, a neck injury, and a high-ankle sprain, yet only missed 16 games on the season. The injuries do however raise a question about his ability to handle the rugged, almost reckless style of game he employs.

Widely considered to be the Bruins best rounded prospect, Knight already possesses NHL-caliber strength, conditioning, and speed. Now, he just needs to get acclimated to the pro game and get comfortable with hockey at higher levels – but as we've seen with Jordan Caron and Brad Marchand, that transition can take time.

5. (NR) Torey Krug, D, 7C
Signed as a free agent, March 25th, 2012

The Bruins prize acquisition this season is defenseman Torey Krug. The former Michigan State captain is small, but plays with immense character and drive. The strong skating, two-way defenseman projects, on the low-end as an Andy Ference-type, and at the high end more like his idol and fellow MSU alum, John Michael-Liles. Krug played in two games for Boston at the end of the season and while you could see he needs time to adjust to the structured system Boston plays, he looked quite comfortable, moving the puck well, joining the attack, and competing for pucks with NHL players. However, overcoming size mismatches will be the 5'9 defenseman's biggest challenge. Krug could compete with Dougie Hamilton for a spot in Boston next fall but because he can be sent to Providence, it's more likely that he spends some time adjusting to the pro game in the minors.

6. (20) Maxim Chudinov, D, 7D
Drafted 7th round, 195th overall, 2010

Max Chudinov is a tough prospect to assess. He plays in the KHL but more importantly, he hasn't even come to North America for a development camp. However given his dominant season for Severstal in which he regularly played more than 25 minutes a night and finished in the top-five in scoring among defensemen, there is a good chance he will cross the pond this upcoming summer. Chiarelli and Chudinov seem to be making progress on a contract and he may in fact be in Boston for July's development camp.

It's hard to know how Chudinov will adapt to North America though his aggressive style should benefit him well. The 22-year-old is a hard-charging fiery competitor who's isn't afraid to play the role of antagonist; all qualities that go over well in the NHL-style game.

7. (6) Maxime Sauve, LW, 7C
Drafted 2nd round, 47th overall, 2008

Max Sauve struggled through another injury-riddled campaign. After making a positive impression on the Bruins in training camp and surviving until the very last round of cuts, Sauve got off to a slow start, then suffered a series of injuries including a concussion that cost him almost two months of the season. When Sauve returned, he put up 19 points in his final 16 games and even earned a call-up to Boston where, unfortunately, he got injured again.

Sauve is signed for another year so expect him back in camp healthy and ready to once again push for a job on the big club, however, injuries continue to derail his development and obscure his talent, which is considerable.

8. (19) Brian Ferlin, RW, 7C
Drafted 4th round, 121st overall, 2011

Ferlin has had a standout first season as a Bruins Prospect. First he got off to a great start at Cornell, where he scored at nearly a point-per-game through the first half of the season and earned player of the week honors several times. He fell just short of making the World Junior team and after the break opponents starting keying on him more as a go-to player for Cornell. As a result, Ferlin found goals and assists were a little harder to come by.

Ferlin's a big, strong kid who skates well. Despite lacking elite speed or mobility, there's a purpose and power to the way he skates. He's a good shooter with good hockey sense and knows how to play with skilled linemates.

9. (16) Carter Camper, 7C
Signed as a free agent, April 7th, 2011

 

Carter Camper was last year's big college free-agent signing. He stepped right into the Providence lineup and had immediate success, leading the team in scoring from beginning to end. Camper's strong play also earned him a call-up to Boston, where he scored his first NHL goal on his first NHL shot.

Carter is going to have a hard time making the NHL fulltime as smaller, does not possess elite skating, nor is he overly tenacious with his play. However, what he does have is excellent hockey IQ and NHL caliber hands. Those qualities have made him a productive contributor in the AHL. His physical limitations still make him something of a long-shot, but he's defied the odds at every level so far, he just may do it again.

10. (12) David Warsofsky, D, 7C
Acquired via trade with St. Louis Blues, June 6th, 2010

David Warsofsky was another one of Providence's impressive rookies. Once he got settled in Providence, he scored at about a half-point per game, which is impressive for any defenseman, let alone a rookie. This is a player with excellent mobility, a terrific shot, excellent vision and a high hockey IQ. His size is his Achilles' heel, standing at roughly 5'9, but he does offset some of that height disadvantage by playing with a lot of spirit and intelligence. If David Warsofsky was 6'2 he'd be a legitimate blue-chip, top-four prospect. However with his dimensions, he's envisioned as more of a third-pairing powerplay specialist.

11. (11) Tommy Cross, D, 7C
Drafted 2nd round, 35th overall, 2007

 

Tommy Cross is a big, mobile defensive defenseman who's played four seasons for the national-champion Boston College Eagles. Cross possesses tremendous character and leadership. He's now won two championships with BC, including this season as the squad's captain. Cross certainly knows how to win and how to lead a winner.

Unfortunately, Cross is another player in the Bruins' prospect stable whose development has been severely hampered by repeated knee injuries. He has been healthy this season and set career highs in all major offensive categories while continuing to play against top players every night. It's hard to know if he'll ever move the puck well enough to be part of an NHL top-four. Still, if he does develop that part of his game, then the high-end upside for a Tommy Cross would be a player like Dennis Seidenberg: Not flashy but mobile, heavy, strong on the puck and at his best in his own zone.

12. (8) Matt Bartkowski, D, 6.5B
Acquired via trade with the Florida Panthers, March 3rd, 2010

Bartkowski continues to be one of Providence's better blueliners. He led the team in ice time, plays all special teams, set career highs this year, and draws the tough defensive assignments. However, when he's been called up to the NHL he's struggled. The Bruins started the season with Bartkowski on the team but a couple of games quickly proved he wasn't ready. The 23-year-old's contract will be up at the end of the season though he will be a restricted free agent, meaning the Bruins still own his exclusive negotiating writes should they choose to.

13. (15) Craig Cunningham, C/RW, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 35th overall, 2007

Cunningham came to Boston with low expectations but the former Memorial Cup winner's character was on full display this season as he handled his early struggles well and finished the season scoring at a 20 goal pace, which is a good benchmark for a rookie. A small but tenacious leader possesses good speed, some creativity one-on-one and dogged determination as a puck-hound. He can play several different roles: in junior hockey he was a checker, scorer, and special-teams talent. The former Vancouver Giant captain is also a dedicated gym rat, and trains with Milan Lucic in the summer. However, much like Camper, Krug, and Warsofsky; his size (5'9, 180 pounds) presents a distinct challenge in terms of making it to the next level.

14. (9) Jamie Arniel, C/W, 6.5B
Drafted 4th round, 97th overall, 2008

 

Jamie Arniel really struggled offensively this season. Previously his development was trending nicely, improving each year at both ends of the rink; coming into this season he was considered someone to watch. Some wondered if he'd hit 30 goals or force his way up I-95 with his hustle and strong defensive game. Unfortunately, Arniel failed to stand out in training camp and then got off to a slow start in Providence that essentially lasted the entire first half. The end result was a player whose development seems to have regressed significantly, and when the Bruins needed reinforcements from Providence, he wasn't in the mix. Still, everyone has an off-year and the Bruins would be wise to re-sign Arniel to see if this year was just a bump on the road or a derailment.

15. (14) Michael Hutchinson, G, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 97th overall, 2008

Michael Hutchinson rebounded strongly from a tough rookie season last year. After being thrown into the fire in 2010-11 as Providence's starting goalie, it was speculated that this was too much too soon for Hutchinson. Many argued that he would benefit from a lighter workload and a proven partner/mentor to pair with – and that's exactly what happened. Anton Khudobin was signed to be Providence's starting goalie and he delivered, which meant fewer games and more practice for Hutchinson.

He has long been considered a "talented, but inconsistent goaltender," so making him play over 30 games at this stage is going to yield a lot of ups and downs. However, moving him into a backup role and asking him to get ready for just one game a week has made it easier for him to bring his A-game each time out. As a result, he's become a much more consistent goaltender for Providence, evidenced by his .927 save percentage. Now the question facing Hutchinson is whether or not he can use this season to springboard into a starting role for Providence next year. The guy ahead of him, Khudobin, has a million-dollar, one-way deal so it's unlikely he's going to be back in net for the P-Bruins.

16. (13) Colby Cohen, D, 6.5C
Acquired via trade with Colorado Avalanche, June 23rd, 2007

 

Colby Cohen showed some real promise in last fall's training camp. While paired with Andrew Ference, Cohen looked like he might be ready to take his game to a higher level, but the end result is another disappointing season from the former Boston University standout. The big, offensively-inclined blueliner has continued to struggle with the defensive game at the AHL level and has failed to produce consistent offense. More of a shooter than a puck-mover, Cohen was paired for much of this season with college teammate David Warsofsky. It was hoped the two would ignite some offense but the duo struggled in their own end. Health and conditioning have been issues in the past and next year will be the last year of his current contract, so it's time for him to stand and deliver.

17. (NR) Justin Florek, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 135th overall, 2010

 

Justin Florek is a big, beast of a hockey player. At 6'4, the left-wing is a heavy presence down low, along the boards and in front of the net. He put up 20 goals as a senior but wasn't a particularly prolific scorer over his four years in college. There is a case to be made that, if he can take full advantage of his size and develop his power game, Florek could be a better pro than college player. He started off his pro career with a bang, managing four points in his first eight games, and has certainly raised the awareness of that fact to the Bruins faithful.

There is certainly some legitimate third line potential with Florek. Any forward as big as he is who shows some ability to score is going to generate significant interest. The Bruins system is overrun with smaller players so Florek's size and power components could push him up a few spots in the pecking order.

18. (NR) Zane Gothberg, G, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 165th overall, 2010

Most Bruins fans believe there isn't much in the pipeline in terms of goaltending talent, but Zane Gothberg may eventually prove those people wrong. Considered a long-term project when the Bruins drafted him 165th overall in 2010, the Bruins were content to let Gothberg develop at his own pace and develop he has. This past season, Gothberg was among the USHL leaders in goals against average (2.22), save percentage (.921) and shutouts (seven). He also had a solid performance for Team USA at the World Junior-A Challenge. Next year, Gothberg will suit up for North Dakota. Gothberg is still several years away from turning pro, let alone competing for an NHL job, but the big, athletic stopper looks more and more like he has the potential to play in the NHL one day.

19. (NR) Rob O'Gara, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 151st overall, 2011

 

Rob O'Gara is a big, smooth two-way defenseman who spent this season in the New England Prep League. He hasn't had a great season, but Milton Academy is a young team so he's on a bit of an island this year. O'Gara really made a name for himself at last summer's development camp. He was one of the youngest and certainly the least experienced defenseman there, but he meshed well with everyone he played with and acquitted himself against top junior and college players. He also showcased his smarts, poise, and well-rounded abilities. Considered a long-term project, O'Gara is expected to join Yale for the 2012-13 season.

20. (18) Zach Hamill, C, (18) 6.5D
Drafted 1st round, 8th overall, 2007

This was an important year for Zach Hamill. The former eighth overall pick in 2007 had spent three full seasons in Providence with only modest production and inconsistent growth. Hamill recognized his situation and came into this year visibly quicker, stronger and more determined. Those gains translated to an impressive training camp but Hamill fell short of making the team and returned to Providence. As the last player cut from camp, there was hope that he'd play well in Providence, be the first player called up, and finally get over the developmental hump. But that didn't happen and Hamill was maddeningly inconsistent in Providence. He did eventually get the call and for the first few games, looked excellent, but the longer he stuck with Boston the less he did on the ice until he was invisible; a pattern similar from years past. Ultimately, Hamill was returned to Providence where he finished the season with his lowest totals yet, eight goals, 21 points in 41 games.

Hamill's entry-level contract is up and with an infusion of new talent to Providence in the form of Camper, Spooner, and Knight, it seems unlikely the Bruins will qualify the former top-10 pick.

 

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