Bruins Top 20 prospects

By HF Staff

Last year’s crop of Beantown prospect graduates included two gems who were top
rookies in the league last season. Andrew Raycroft won the Calder Trophy as the
league’s top rookie, after firmly establishing himself as one of the
league’s best young netminders. Patrice Bergeron jumped straight from
being a draft day selection to a growing offensive star for the Bruins.

Moving into 2004-05, the Bruins new top 20 is remarkably balanced. There are four goalies on the list, as well as four defensemen and four players for each wing to go along with four centers. Many may make the jump to the NHL quickly when the league resumes operation. Boston GM Mike O’Connell allowed many of the 2003-04 Bruins regulars to
walk away as Unrestricted Free Agents, planning to sign the players available in the marketplace later on, but if that fails, his gamble could pay off in playing time for some of the players listed below.

Note: the top 20 is based on long-term impact on the hockey club and is not a reflection of who is closest to making the NHL. Players are assigned a grade (per Hockey’s Future criteria)
reflecting their potential and likelihood of reaching it. Other factors that
help determine ranking order to varying degrees include: player age, draft
position, current league and team quality, location (North America or
Europe) and foreseeable opportunity.

Quick glance at the Bruins Top 20

1. Hannu Toivonen, G – 20 – Providence, AHL
2. Mark Stuart, D – 20 – Colorado College, WCHA
3. Brad Boyes, C – 22 – Providence/Cleveland, AHL
4. Sergei Zinovjev, R – 24 – Boston, NHL/Providence, AHL/AK Bars Kazan,
Russia
5. Milan Jurcina, D – 21 – Providence, AHL
6. Andy Hilbert, L – 23 – Boston, NHL/Providence, AHL
7. Lars Jonsson, D – 22 – Leksands IF, Sweden
8. Martin Samuelsson, L – 22 – Boston, NHL/Providence, AHL
9. Andrew Alberts, D – 23 – Boston College, HE
10. David Krejci, C – 18 – Kladno, Czech Republic
11. Jordan Sigalet, G – 23 – Bowling Green, CCHA
12. Masi Marjamaki, L – 19 – Moose Jaw/Red Deer, WHL
13. Vladislav Evseev, R – 20 – Dynamo Moscow, Russia
14. Ivan Huml, L – 23 – Boston, NHL/Providence, AHL
15. Martin Karsums, R – 18 – Moncton, QMJHL
16. Byron Bitz, R – 20 – Cornell, ECAC
17. Mike Brown, G – 19 – Saginaw, OHL
18. Matti Kaltiainen, G – 22 – Boston College, HE
19. Kris Vernarsky, C – 22 – Boston, NHL/Providence, AHL
20. Nate Thompson, C – 19 – Seattle, WHL

1. Hannu Toivonen, G (Drafted 29th overall, 1st round in the 2002
NHL
Entry Draft)

Toivonen continues his reign as the B’s top prospect after a strong
rookie season in the AHL with Providence. He split time with veteran Tim Thomas between the
pipes and finished within the top 20 in the AHL in both save percentage and
goals against average. Toivonen also was solid as Finland’s top netminder at
the 2004 World Junior Championships, leading the host country to a bronze
medal.
A butterfly goaltender who’s fast on his feet, Toivonen finds himself
behind defending Calder Trophy winner Andrew Raycroft. Raycroft doesn’t look
to be moving anywhere soon; however, if his contract situation isn’t resolved
after the league returns to operation, Toivonen will be given the first
chance to play.

2. Mark Stuart, D (Drafted 21st overall, 1st round in the 2003 NHL
Entry
Draft)

Stuart is continuing his promising career at Colorado College. Named
captain in his sophomore year, he surpassed his career high in goals (4) and also
upped his career mark in penalty minutes to 100. Stuart was also a member of
the USA World Juniors team for the second year in a row. He played a key
role as the team won the gold-medal. With the work stoppage, Stuart will return
for his junior year at Colorado College and again lead their blueline. A
tough stay at home defender, Stuart has yet to develop his offensive game,
but has top 4 potential and he could end up being a premiere shut-down
blueliner.

3. Brad Boyes, C (Trade with San Jose, March 2004)
Boyes is already part of his third organization, although still waiting
to make the leap to full-time NHL duty. Boyes made his NHL debut this year
with the San Jose Sharks, playing in one game and registering 2 penalty
minutes.
Traded to Boston in a three-way trade deadline deal that also included
Buffalo, Boyes ended up leading Providence in scoring, although most of
his points came during his time in Cleveland. Boyes may be counted on to
step immediately into the Bruins lineup once the NHL restarts, and he could
be ready. A two-way player with plenty of offensive savvy as well as smart
hockey sense and a great attitude, Boyes could one day center a second
line. He does need to get stronger however.

4. Sergei Zinovjev, RW (Drafted 73rd overall, 3rd round in the 2000
NHL
Entry Draft)

Last year saw Zinovjev initially starting the season in Providence,
before getting a call up on the day of the season opener. He registered his
first NHL point (an assist) in his first NHL game, but wasn’t able to tally
anything else. In December he was sent back to Providence and before
the end
of the month, he has exercised his option to finish his year with AK
Bars Kazan in Russia. A shifty and talented player, Zinovjev needs to
overcome
his small stature and poor decisions with the puck to make more of an
impact. If he pans out, he could be a second or third liner, and
because he
was drafted at the age of 20, he should be able to make the jump faster
than most prospects. Despite his talent, there are still some questions.
Zinovjev
was originally named to Team Russia for the 2004 World Championships,
but was sent home due to drug test coming up positive for marijuana. It’s
still not sure if the situation was legitimate or if it was due to his
relationship with some of the management of the Russian squad.

5. Milan Jurcina, D (Drafted 241st overall, 8th round in the 2001
NHL
Entry Draft)

Jurcina performed well in his rookie AHL season, after three years in
junior. Drafted as a project, he looks to be close to paying off. He
has size to go along with his skill and is solid at both ends of the ice.
He could still benefit from more seasoning, but may be tabbed as the seventh
defenseman for the Bruins when the 2004-05 season begins. He has the
potential to become a power play quarterback.

6. Andy Hilbert, LW (Drafted 37th overall, 2nd round in the 2000 NHL
Entry Draft)

Hilbert has seen time in the NHL for the last three years, but hasn’t
been able to stick. He plays a solid two-way game with great offensive
instincts. However, he needs to add strength to make up for his slight size. He
has been a strong player in the AHL, but hasn’t put it completely together
for NHL duty, although he had a promising playoff. Time could be close to
running out for the former Hobey Baker finalist; he signed a one-year
contract over the summer and the 2004-05 season could be make or
break.

7. Lars Jonsson, D (Drafted 7th overall, 1st round in the 2000 NHL
Entry
Draft)

Jonsson has remained in Sweden ever since Boston drafted him four years
ago. A puck-moving blueliner, he had a strong year with Leksands IF last
season, recording career highs in virtually every offensive category. He has
attended training camps for the Bruins over the last few seasons,
indicating he is interested in joining the NHL, but so far, nothing further has
resulted. He still needs some work in his own end, and it wouldn’t hurt
if he played the body more, but what could really help him is some time
playing in North America.

8. Martin Samuelsson, LW (Drafted 27th overall, 1st round in the
2000 NHL
Entry Draft)

Samuelsson once again saw time in both the NHL and the AHL. He
possesses game-breaking speed, but hasn’t been able to do much offensively. He’s
a candidate as a player who will put it all together and really challenge
for a spot in the top 6, but is more likely to end up as a third-line
checker. He has great two-way skills and decent size, so there’s no reason to
expect he won’t be useful somehow at the NHL level.

9. Andrew Alberts, D (Drafted 179th overall, 6th round in the 2001
NHL
Entry Draft)

A big hard-nosed blueliner entering his final year at Boston College,
Alberts is a tough customer. He was named to the NCAA East All-American
team as well as the Hockey East Second All-Star team after last season. He
also shared Hockey East’s Best Defensive Defenseman award with Prestin Ryan.
Alberts loves to hit and keeps the front of the net clear. He won’t be
impressive offensively, but he does have potential to be a No. 5 or 6
defender in the NHL.

10. David Krejci, C (Drafted 63rd overall, 2nd round in the 2004 NHL
Entry Draft)

Krejci debuts on the Top 20 at the midpoint. Drafted with a pick from
San Jose after Boston traded their third, fourth and ninth round selections to get
it, Krejci is a skilled playmaker. He averaged over a point a game in Czech
Extraliga play with Kladno and also led the Czech team to a bronze
medal at the 2004 Under-18 World Championships. He still needs work on his speed
and defensive play but his soft hands and great vision could be his ticket
to the NHL.

11. Jordan Sigalet, G (Drafted 209th overall, 7th round in the 2001
NHL
Entry Draft)

Sigalet is another in Boston’s pipeline of goaltenders. Entering
his senior year at Bowling Green, he has improved each season there. Last
year, he was named to the CCHA First-All Star Team. After he graduates, he
could move directly into Providence, although he will need to establish
himself among the other promising netminders in the organization.

12. Masi Marjamaki, LW (Drafted 66th overall, 2nd round in the 2003
NHL
Entry Draft)

Masi Marjamaki plays an agitating, rambunctious game. He’s mainly used
as a pest to throw opponents off his game. Last season he saw time with both
the Moose Jaw Warriors and the Red Deer Rebels. He also played for Team
Finland at the 2004 World Juniors, helping them win the bronze medal. He’s a
solid player, but should probably add strength before playing his type of
game at the NHL level.

13. Vladislav Evseev, RW (Drafted 56th overall, 2nd round in the
2002 NHL
Entry Draft)

A dynamic player who plays well all-around, Evseev has potential to
make an impact. Although he has yet to make the trip to North America, he has
loads of offensive skills. Only a shoulder injury in his draft year prevented
him from becoming a top pick. Evseev needs to come across the pond to
better develop his game if he is to make it to the NHL. He’s still a raw
talent but his upside is tremendous.

14. Ivan Huml, LW (Drafted 59th overall, 4th round in the 2000 NHL
Entry
Draft)

Huml ideally should have made his mark last season. He had just finished
a year which saw him play in 41 NHL games and was poised to claim a spot
in the lineup. However, instead, in 2003-04 he took a step back. Only
playing in seven NHL games, Huml has good size and scoring potential. The problems come
at the other end of the ice, where he is weak defensively and makes poor decisions with the puck. Huml has yet to sign another contract with the Bruins and he finds himself at a crossroads, development wise. He needs to make the jump to become an NHL regular or risk getting left behind.

15. Martin Karsums, RW (Drafted 64th overall, 2nd round in the 2004
NHL
Entry Draft)

Boston were so impressed by Krejci and Karsums, that they traded to
draft one right after the other. Karsums is a smart offensive hockey player, with
soft hands and a quick shot. He had a strong year as a rookie with Moncton,
finishing in the top five in league rookie scoring. Although slight in
stature, he doesn’t play like it. But in order to make it to the NHL,
he
will need to fill out. He has the potential to be a top six winger.

16. Byron Bitz, RW (Drafted 107th overall, 4th round in the 2003 NHL
Entry Draft)

A big guy, Bitz had a strong freshman year with Cornell after spending
the previous season in the BCHL. Although he still is definitely a raw
project, Bitz possesses that mix of size and skill that makes teams drool. He
needs to continue to develop in the college ranks and could one day pay off
as a second-liner. Bitz skates well for his size and primarily plays as a
playmaker. If he played the body more, he could eventually be a power
forward.

17. Mike Brown, G (Drafted 153rd overall, 5th round in the 2003 NHL
Entry
Draft)

They say the best way for a goalie to develop is to play for a bad team. Brown should be well developed then, as he has been backstopping the OHL Saginaw Spirit for two seasons, and has seen a lot of rubber. A technically sound goaltender, he has a quick glove and a good attitude. However, he does find himself in an organization deep in young netminders. He’ll need to establish himself in order to get the time necessary to develop or he could end up stagnating in the minors.

18. Matti Kaltiainen, G (Drafted 111th overall, 4th round in the
2001 NHL
Entry Draft)

Kaltiainen is entering his final year at Boston College and although he
has played well, his future is cloudy after graduation. Despite being named
to the 2003-04 Hockey East Second All-Star Team, Kaltiainen is part of an
organization with a glut of goaltenders. He has great size and mobility
and has a positive attitude as well as plenty of confidence.

19. Kris Vernarsky, C (Trade with Toronto, May 2000)
Acquired by Boston from the Maple Leafs for Ric Jackman, Vernarsky has
seen time in the NHL for each of the past two seasons. Although he lacks
offensive talent, he possesses the size and defensive skill to be a
strong checking center. He has been solid for Providence and could soon be
ready to make the jump full time.

20. Nate Thompson, C (Drafted 183rd overall, 6th round in the 2003
NHL
Entry Draft)

A speedy center, Thompson is poised to take on more offensive responsibility in his final season in the WHL. He plays solid at both ends of the ice, but needs to add strength. He possesses only average size; however he could make it to the NHL as a checking line player.

Kevin Forbes, Sukhwinder Pandher and George Bachul contributed to this article. Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.