It is hard to believe that the opening of Boston Bruins Training Camp ’99 is less than 10 days away, but the summer has indeed flown by and this year’s annual camp and pre-season promises to be an interesting one for head coach Pat Burns, as the Bruins have added a lot of new faces to their system, to complement the talented nucleus of youngsters that led the Providence Bruins to the AHL’s 1999 Calder Cup Championship. Here is a look at what prospects are in and out, and which players you’ll probably see wearing the spoked B during the season.
Who’s In(New to organization):
Jeff Zehr LW(FA), Nick Boynton D(1-99), Matt Zultek LW(2-99), Mikko Eloranta C/LW(9-99), Joe Hulbig LW(FA), Vratislav Cech D(FA), Sean Pronger C(FA), Kay Whitmore G(FA)
Randy Robitaille(Nashville), Jim Baxter(Carolina), Bob Prier(Ottawa), Paxton Schafer, Matt Alvey, Terry Virtue(Rangers), Chris Taylor(Buffalo)
Landon Wilson, RW. Many thought Landon Wilson would not be a Boston Bruin for long after he failed to make the team out of camp last year, but Wilson’s superb play with Providence earned him a second chance with the big club, and he played the best hockey of his career during the Bruins’ opening round playoff victory over Carolina. Had a shoulder injury not limited his effectiveness, Wilson could have been a key contributor against Buffalo. With the departure of Dimitri Khristich, Wilson is all but assured a place on the Bruins roster unless he does not put forth the effort to earn it. Wilson has matured considerably since first coming to the Bruins in 1996 from Colorado, and knows what he needs to do.
Shawn Bates, C. Like Wilson, Bates shuttled back-and-forth between Providence and Boston last season, and played well for both clubs. His hockey skills are first-rate and he could replace Tim Taylor, who departed to the Rangers via free agency, as the checking line center. Bates is smallish at under 6-feet, but is strong and has blinding speed on his skates. His low center of gravity and excellent balance makes him a good candidate to go up against the best other teams have to offer.
Peter Ferraro, C/RW/LW. Ferraro can play any of the forward positions and is a great skater. Having spent much of last season in Boston, he is a known commodity and thus, has an excellent chance of making the Bruins this year providing he brings the same intensity and drive to camp that got him noticed last year. As the AHL playoff MVP, Ferraro is at the top of his game right now and could pay big dividends if he can bring his proven scoring touch with him to the NHL. He has not done it yet, but is certainly capable of 20 goals should he earn the ice time.
Cameron Mann, RW. As was the case for Wilson,Bates and Ferraro, “Manner” benefited greatly from spending time both in Boston and Providence last season and showed glimpses of brilliance during a stint in February, when he scored the first 5 goals of his NHL career. By the time the season ended, however, Mann’s ice time dropped dramatically and he was clearly a role player. Mann has good skills, but his attitude and desire have been the major question marks in his development to date. Still, having been in the Boston organization for the past three years, he has the advantage of knowing the system and what it takes to play for Burns.
Mattias Timander, D. Providing that the Bruins sign Timander, Mattias showed he is not the disappointment he appeared to be after two lackluster seasons in 1996-97 and 1997-98. Taking advantage of a late season call-up, Timander demonstrated his mobility and improved decision-making ability. In a limited role in the playoffs, Timander played very well, having several stand-out performances against the Sabres in the second round.
Joel Prpic, C. Prpic is a big checking center out of St. Lawrence University who has completed 2 seasons of hockey in Providence and could nail down a job on the 4th line. Prpic has never been much of a scorer at any level, but you have to love his size (6-7, 225) and work ethic. He’s proven he can play in the pros. Whether he can do so at the highest level still remains to be seen.
Joe Hulbig, LW. Hulbig is another large power forward-type who, after being a 1st-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers in 1992, has been labeled as a disappointment. Hulbig grew up in the Boston area and would love nothing better than to make his hometown Bruins and prove his critics wrong. Not the most gifted of skaters, Hulbig will have to make his presence felt through hard work, desire and burying the opportunities he does get whenever he can.
Sean Pronger, C. Pronger, who came to the Bruins via free agency, would love to get out from under the shadow of his younger brother, Chris, by securing a Boston roster spot and making an impact throughout the season. Pronger has good size and has been a proven scorer in the minors, but has barely been able to maintain a role player status in the NHL. It is believed that Boston brought him in to challenge youngsters such as Bates and Mann, sending the unmistakable message that their jobs with the Bruins are by no means secure.
Nick Boynton, D. Despite the rumblings that a contract dispute between the Bruins and Boynton is brewing, the Memorial Cup MVP fully intends to be at training camp, preferring to let his play do the talking in contract negotiations. Boynton brings a lot to the table in terms of skills and all-around ability, but has already had problems signing an NHL contract, re-entering the draft after failing to come to terms with Washington. With Bruins management notorious for making some contract negotiations difficult, it will be interesting to see what happens in Boynton’s case.
Jonathan Girard, D. As Boston’s top pick in 1998, Girard surprised a lot of people by making Boston’s opening night roster last season. He did not stay long, returning to his junior club at Acadie-Bathurst, but is still among Boston’s elite young prospects. A smooth-skating, puck-carrying defenseman, Girard has shown a good amount of offensive flash in his game. The bad news: Girard is not as good in his own end, and lacks the size and strength to be a physical player. There are mixed reviews of his play, but the general consensus is that he needs more work. Of course, the Bruins would love for him to have the opportunity to play with the great Ray Bourque, whose playing days are nearing an end. Girard does have a contract with Boston and has an edge on Boynton in that regard.
Mikko Eloranta, C/LW. Boston used the first of two choices in the 9th round of this year’s draft to select Eloranta, who is a seasoned 27 year-old veteran with TPS Turku of the Finnish Elite League. Eloranta reminds many scouts of current Bruin Per-Johan Axelsson, who at present, has not been re-signed. If Eloranta can bring the skill and grit to his game in North America, he could turn out to be a very pleasant surprise for Bruins coaches and fans.
The Dark Horses:
Jeff Zehr, LW. Zehr is a big, talented winger out of the OHL who signed with Boston after failing to come to terms with the NY Islanders who drafted him in the 2nd round in 1997. Zehr has an impressive array of skills and is confident that he can make the Boston roster now. That may not be up to him, however. Pat Burns likes to go with veterans and experienced players more often than not, and there are several young players who have paid their dues in Boston’s minor system. Zehr will have his work cut out for him, but seasoning in Providence might just be the best thing for him.
Matt Zultek, LW. Zultek, a former 1st-round pick of the Kings in 1997, re-entered the draft and was picked up by Boston at the 56th slot. He has scored some important goals in his junior career, none bigger than his OT marker that clinched the 1999 Memorial Cup. However, there have been some questions raised about his game in terms of effort and attitude, and should Zultek want to succeed in making the Bruins, he will need to not only make plays at camp, but will have to prove that his reputation as a lazy player is undeserved. If anyone can do it, Zultek can. He has tremendous skills and a nose for the net, something lacking in Boston.
Vratislav Cech, D. “Vratty” as he was known to teammates and fans at Kitchener, is another free agent from the 1997 draft class to sign with Boston after being let go by the Florida Panthers. Cech had an off-year due more to friction with his coach than anything else, and has shown some offensive upside in junior. He’ll no doubt spend time in the minors and for Cech, that is not a bad thing. Given the right seasoning, the NHL may very well be in his future.
Andre Savage, RW. Savage got virtually no attention when the Bruins signed him as an un-drafted free agent out of Michigan Tech in 1998, but after an all-rookie season with the AHL, including a small stint in Boston where he scored his 1st NHL goal, Savage could be an up-and-comer. He battled injuries throughout the year and could probably stand more experience in Providence, but a future in Boston is not out-of-the-question.
The best of the rest: These other players will also compete for spots on the Boston roster and could surprise all by making the team. More than likely, they will play in Providence or the Bruins’ ECHL affiliate in order to benefit from increased playing time.
Eric Nickulas C/RW, John Grahame G, Jay Henderson LW, Antti Laaksonen LW, Marquis Mathieu C, Johnathan Aitken D, Ben Clymer D, Eric Van Acker D, Elias Abrahamsson D, and Andrew Raycroft G.
The Boston Bruins open training camp at Ristuccia Center in Wilmington, Massachusetts on September 5, 1999.