Despite the Boston Bruins’ lousy showing in 1999-2000, the organization has some bright young talent waiting in the wings. Boston’s regular season collapse was baffling, but when your top center and your best goal-scorer are both lost for the season, and your 1999 2nd-Team All-Star in net struggles mightily, this was all bound to happen. Add questionable coaching and the fact that the captain and future Hall-of-Famer Raymond Bourque was summarily dealt to Colorado 1 week prior to the trade deadline and a non-playoff finish was the end result. Before you sink too deep into the depths of despair, fear not. The state of the Boston Bruins is better than things appear, and the team is due to rebound next season. Here is a look at the Bruins’ top prospects according to the Hockey’s Future Bruins Staff…
The skinny: It was a tough year for Nick, whose troubles began at Training Camp with a diagnosis of adult-onset diabetes. As if that were not enough, he injured his shoulder and missed the start of the American Hockey League season. Boynton did not make the transition from junior to pro as smoothly as he would have liked, annd struggled in his first 15 games or so with the Providence Bruins before finding his groove. As he began to steady his play on defense, while producing offensively for a Providence team devastated by injuries and call-ups to the parent Boston club, Boynton went down with a knee injury. Returning in late March, he has played a bit tentatively and is scheduled for off- season knee surgery at the conclusion of the AHL playoffs. Nick made his Boston Bruins debut on April 1st against the New York Rangers.
The good news: Boynton is about as solid a prospect as they come. He has size and is hits well. He’s a good skater who plays very poised hockey in his own end. Possessing excellent puckhandling skills, Boynton can effectively clear his own zone and move the puck up the ice. He has a hard, accurate shot and plays the point on the power play as well as anybody. A Top-10 choice in 1997, he slipped to 21st overall in 1999, but the Bruins ended up with a steal. Expect to see him play full time in Boston next season.
2. Samuel Pahlsson, C/W
The skinny: A very late-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche in 1996, Pahlsson has blossomed into one of the top players in the Swedish Elite League since his draft year. The key player in the Ray Bourque deal, Boston had to include veteran Dave Andreychuk in order to pry Pahlsson away, but from all accounts, Pahlsson appears to be worth it. Samuel had a solid year with MoDo, playing behind his higher-profile teammates Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
The good news: Pahlsson may not be an offensive dynamo in the mold of fellow Swedish superstars Peter Forsberg or Mats Sundin, but he brings a lot of other things to the table. He is a gritty, hard-working player who plays a very physical style and should have little trouble adjusting to the North American game. He does a lot of things well and with his strength and size, is very difficult to knock off the puck. A superb passer, his versatility allows him to play at center or on the wing and on special teams. He could stand to improve his faceoff skills, but has the ability to step into the NHL and contribute right away. Oh, did we mention that he already has signed an NHL contract? You should see Pahlsson in a spoked B sweater real soon.
3. John Grahame, G
The skinny: Boston’s 7th choice in 1994, Grahame became the first goaltender drafted by the Bruins since Bill Ranford(1985) to win a game in a Boston uniform. The organization has always had trouble picking and developing their own talent in goal, but appears to have gotten one right with Grahame. Grahame’s father, Ron also played for the Bruins for a season in 1977, and was traded to the Los Angeles Kings for a 1st-round choice that turned out to be Ray Bourque. John spent three years with Lake Superior State University of the CCHA before turning pro with Providence for the 1997-98 season. In 1998-99, Grahame led the AHL in wins with 37 and backstopped the Baby Bruins to the 1999 Calder Cup. Byron Dafoe’s holdout gave Grahame the opportunity to play in Boston this season and he did an oustanding job in 8 games before being sent back down. Dafoe’s season-ending injury against Vancouver allowed Grahame to finish the season with the big club.
The good news: Grahame has proven that he can stop pucks at the NHL level, although he still has some kinks to work out in his game. He tends to wander from his net and has been caught out on occasion and burned. He’s a fierce competitor but his emotions can get the best of him and he has taken some costly roughing penalties as well. Still, Grahame has an incredible glove and is a tremendous athlete for a player of his size. His play definitely opened some eyes and should he hone his game over the summer and report to camp as hungry as he did this past fall, he should have no trouble locking up a permanent roster spot in Boston.
4. Jonathan Girard, D.
The skinny: Girard, Boston’s top choice (48th overall) in the 1998 Draft, has slipped a bit in his ranking but is still a highly-touted prospect. He made the Boston Bruins out of training camp two years straight, although he was subsequently sent back down to junior after very limited playing time. This season was particularly rough on Girard because of Boston’s poor start and the fact that coach Pat Burns put Girard on the wing for the majority of the 23 games he played in a Bruins uniform. As a young, inexperienced player, Girard seemed to lose confidence, and when he was sent to Providence for a 5-game conditioning stint, he played terribly. Traded by his QMJHL team the Acadie-Bathurst Titan to the Moncton Wildcats, Jonathan regained his form, scoring 10 goals and 35 points in 26 games. He has been a key player for Moncton in the QMJHL playoffs.
The good news: Girard has tremendous hockey skills despite a shortness in strength and stature. He is not as good defensively, but provides plenty of offense from the blueline and if paired effectively with a solid defenseman, will only get better. His handling this season by Burns was atrocious and by all rights, should have shattered the kid’s confidence. Fortunately for the Bruins and Girard, he seems to have regained the form that made him Boston’s top prospect over the past couple of seasons. A coach that can let Girard utilize his vast array of tools without fear of reprisal will go a long way towards helping Girard become a key asset for the Boston Bruins in the years to come.
5. Andrew Raycroft, G
The skinny: Coming into this season, Andrew Raycroft had demonstrated that he could stop pucks in spectacular fashion, but the all- important consistency and big play at clutch time that is so important for goaltenders to reach the highest level had eluded him. While playing for the Kingston Frontenacs this year, Raycroft has answered his critics, carrying his team with superb play through the entire OHL season. A sleeper pick at 135th overall in 1998, Andrew’s stock has risen significantly and the Bruins would love to keep him in the organization to replace John Grahame, who seems to have arrived. The fans in Providence look forward to having Raycroft devlop with their team.
The good news: Raycroft has shown that he has potential to be a franchise goalie in the NHL. He is everything you look for in a netminder and by playing for weak defensive clubs in his OHL career, is also mentally tough. There is one problem, however. If he does not sign a contract with Boston, he will go back into the draft. Unlike most players who re-enter the draft and are chosen later than they were orginally taken, Raycroft will undoubtedly go well before the 150th position. The onus will be on the Bruins to convince the young Jedi that he is their goalie of the future and offer him more money than they normally would to a later pick or else probably lose him to another NHL club waiting for their chance to nab Raycroft.
By virtue of missing the postseason, the Bruins will also benefit from what will probably be a Top-10 draft choice as well. Also in the mix is Colorado’s 1st-round pick, able to be used either this year or next depending on if New Jersey swaps positions(they will) and if the player(s) the Bruins covet on their board is still available at the 25th-30th slot where New Jersey’s record will likely take them. While missing the playoffs is a painful reminder of the disaster this season has been, the Bruins have wisely held onto their talented core of youth. Jason Allison, Joe Thornton, Kyle McLaren, Anson Carter, Sergei Samsonov…all will be back and hopefully be able to keep healthy. In the meantime, the Bruins boast a stable of young prospects eager to crack the lineup. Other darkhorse prospects who will give the top 5 a run for their money: D Martin Grenier, RW Lee Goren, LW Jeff Zehr, LW Matt Zultek and D Bobby Allen. The kids are alright and will likely help get the Bruins back into the playoffs in 2001.