Bruins Top 20 prospects

By HF Staff

The Boston Bruins Top 20 list both starts and ends with a goaltender, and it really would not feel right any other way. There are four goaltenders on the list, all of which have reigning NHL rookie of the year Andrew Raycroft to look forward to meeting at the next Bruins training camp they attend. Overall the list remains balanced, with a good mix of defensemen and forwards of all shapes and forms. Their three big blueline prospects: Mark Stuart, Milan Jurcina and Andrew Alberts, should make things much easier in the future for whichever talented goaltender they have between their pipes at the time.

The top forward prospects are generally the types that would be easily overpowered by the club’s top three defense prospects, but there is some good talent up front, especially at center. It helps that their two best forward prospects, Brad Boyes and Andy Hilbert, are both ready for regular NHL duty. Overall, the Bruins remain a solid, middle of the road organization with a good mix of talent, and a number of prospects on the cusp of making the jump.

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 (AHL)
4.Milan Jurcina, D – 21 – Providence (AHL)
5.Andy Hilbert, C – 24 – Providence (AHL)
6.Andrew Alberts, D – 23 – Boston College (HE)/Providence (AHL)
7.Lars Jonsson, D – 23 – Timra IK (Sweden)
8.Jordan Sigalet, G – 24 – Bowling Green (CCHA)
9.David Krejci, C – 18 – Gatineau (QMJHL)
10.Martin Karsums, RW – 19 – Moncton (QMJHL)
11.Ben Walter, C – 20 – Massachusetts-Lowell (HE)
12.Masi Marjamaki, LW – 20 – Moose Jaw (WHL)
13.Martin Samuelsson, LW – 23 – Providence (AHL)
14.Vladislav Evseev, LW – 20 – Moscow Dynamo/Ufa Salavat Yulayev (Russia)
15.Mike Brown, G – 20 – Saginaw/Owen Sound (OHL)
16.Matt Hunwick, D – 19 – Michigan (CCHA)
17.Byron Bitz, LW – 20 – Cornell (ECAC)
18.Yan Stastny, C – 22 – Nuernberg Ice Tigers (Germany)
19.Ashton Rome, RW – 19 – Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
20.Kevin Regan, G – 20 – New Hampshire (HE)

1. (1) Hannu Toivonen, G – 20 – Providence (AHL)

Finland, a country of just over five million people, is producing quality young goaltenders at an amazing rate, with Kari Lehtonen and Miikka Kiprusoff among them. Hannu Toivonen is yet another prime example of the country’s remarkable goaltender development program. In his third year since being drafted and second in the AHL, Toivonen ranks near the top in all important statistics such as goals against average (2.04) and save percentage (.932), and has as good a shot as any at Top Goaltender honors.

The Bruins selected the Kalvola native with the 29th selection in the 2002 draft, which was originally viewed as a reach. Of course, the Bruins were on to something, and Toivonen’s subsequent ascent into one of hockey’s best goaltending prospects has been impressive. Toivonen’s size works perfectly with his butterfly style, complemented by great quickness and reflexes. Like other Finnish goalies, his work ethic is another reason why he has thrived. The presence of the NHL’s reigning rookie of the year, Andrew Raycroft, between Boston’s pipes is the only thing stopping Toivonen from earning significant playing time when the NHL returns.

2. (2) Mark Stuart, D – 20 – Colorado College (WCHA)

There are few prospects who play a more professional game than Mark Stuart. Stuart wore the captain’s “C” on a Colorado College team that boasted the nation’s top two forwards in Hobey Baker winner Marty Sertich and linemate Brett Sterling. It is Stuart, though, who is the heart and soul of the squad. This past week, Stuart’s club lost its national semifinal game to the University of Denver, who went on to its second straight national title. Stuart finished the season with five goals and 19 points in 43 games, to go along with 94 penalty minutes.

Selected 21st overall in 2003, Stuart will never be confused with Sergei Gonchar, either offensively or defensively. While he is capable of putting some points on the board in college, his role as a professional will be to take care of his own zone. The tools to succeed in this regard are very present, as Stuart is not only strong and physical, but mobile as well, which should enable him to handle all kinds of skilled forwards. At this point in his career he can at times get lose his discipline, but he is smart enough to make the necessary adjustments as he develops. Unfortunately, Stuart lacks the puck skills to be a major offensive contributor, but he should nonetheless have a long and steady career in Boston.

3. (3) Brad Boyes, C – 22 – Providence (AHL)

It is not surprising that many forget that Brad Boyes is only 22 years old. After all, the two-time winner of the Ontario Hockey League’s Red Tilson Trophy for Most Outstanding Player, is already with his third organization. Originally a first round pick with Toronto, Boyes was dealt along with Alyn McCauley and a first round pick to San Jose for Owen Nolan. As fate would have it that first round pick was later dealt to Boston, who used it on Mark Stuart. Although Boyes continued scoring in the AHL with San Jose’s affiliate in Cleveland, he was dealt once again to Boston in a deal for former top prospect Jeff Jillson.

It is interesting that Boyes was dealt with Alyn McCauley, because that is a perfect comparison for the young center. Boyes, like McCauley, has average size and skating ability, but compensates for it well with a wide-array of offensive talents, a strong two-way game and the make-up of a natural leader. He is a proven commodity in the AHL, after another strong year with Providence, where he has 33 goals and 75 points through 77 games. The Mississauga native may be ready for NHL action when it resumes, although he could still stand to add some bulk to better handle the rigors of the NHL grind.

4. (4) Milan Jurcina, D – 21 – Providence (AHL)

Every year CHL teams import young 17-year-old players over from Europe, who either sink or swim. Jurcina’s first year in North America, with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL back in 2000-01, was a tough one. He put up a total of only five points the entire season, but when the NHL draft rolled around that summer, the Bruins decided to take a chance on him in the eighth round. Since being drafted, Jurcina has blossomed into a good young blueline prospect, with two great years to finish off his junior career, and a smooth adjustment to the AHL game.

Jurcina has size and strength. A native of Slovakia, Jurcina stands at 6’4, and is already filled out to the tune of 235 lbs. He knows how to utilize his physical tools, as he takes care of his own zone with both brains and brawn. He has been exceptional for Providence this year, although his 21 points through 76 games do not tell the whole story. On top of taking care of his own zone, what makes him a true stalwart is that he moves the puck up ice very well with a strong first pass. Although not a naturally gifted offensive blueliner, he has a very heavy shot that could translate into power play time at the next level. Like many of the Bruins top prospects, the big Slovak could very easily be in the Boston lineup when the league’s labor dispute is over.

5. (5) Andy Hilbert, C – 24 – Providence (AHL)

Some players can just flat out score, and Andy Hilbert is one of them. He has proved it at every level. A native of Howell, Michigan, Hilbert appeared to be where he wanted to be with the University of Michigan. In his sophomore season, though, he took off after teaming up with Los Angeles prospect Mike Cammalleri, and subsequently gave up his final two years to head to the AHL. Fast-forward four years, and Cammalleri, now with the Manchester Monarchs, sits second in league scoring, and Hilbert sixth. Through 77 games, he has put up 37 goals and 78 points, both career highs at that level.

Every great goal scorer has at least one dominant attribute, whether it is supreme skating ability, a great release, or an unquestionable nose for the net. Hilbert has that hockey sense, and just knows how to finish off plays. Although he stands just less than six feet tall, and will never impress with his wheels, but has a great shot, deadly more for its accuracy than power. Consistency is the real problem with Hilbert, who has played parts of three seasons in Boston already. The potential is definitely there for Hilbert to establish himself as an NHL scorer, but he is getting old enough that the next Boston training camp he attends, will be last chance to solidify his spot with the team.

6. (8) Andrew Alberts, D – 23 – Boston College (HE)/Providence (AHL)

Although Andrew Alberts did not spend his draft year in college, the Bruins must have liked the idea of being able to watch the Minnesota defenseman in their own backyard, as Alberts had already committed to Boston College when the Bruins called his name in the sixth round of the 2001 draft. Selected from the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL, Alberts recently completed a stellar four-year career at BC. While his offensive statistics are modest (16 points in 30 games this past season), Alberts like Stuart and Jurcina above him, is most valuable in his own zone. He was recognized for his outstanding play by being named to the Hockey East First All-Star Team. Since then, his club was knocked out of the playoffs, and Alberts has headed to Providence, where he has already played two games.

Another huge defensive specimen at 6’4 and almost 220 lbs, Alberts can take care of his own zone. He moves reasonably well for a guy his size, and has worked diligently to improve his passing. While he has a big shot, his offensive skills are limited. In college he was asked to play on the power play, but as a professional, he’ll have to play to his natural strengths. One problem that Alberts had this year was with injuries, as he sustained two separate knee injuries. A big hitter both along the boards and in the open-ice, the Bruins can only hope that his big body can sustain Alberts’ nasty disposition.

7. (6) Lars Jonsson, D – 23 – Timra IK (Sweden)

In stark contrast to the blueliners ahead of him on this list, Jonsson is a pure offensive talent. Expectations were high when the Bruins used the seventh selection in the 2000 draft on the slick Swede, yet in four subsequent seasons, Jonsson has yet to explode offensively. Originally he struggled to stay in the top league in Sweden. This past season, he put five goals and 11 points in 50 games with Timra IK, which was almost identical to his previous season with Leksands IF.

The offensive tools are undeniable. His skating was compared to Scott Niedermayer at the draft, his offensive gifts to Sandis Ozolinsh. He has all the makings of both a leader of the counterattack, and a power play quarterback. Although his defense has slowly improved since being drafted, he seems to have trouble combining stable defense and dangerous offense at the same time. The best course of action for Jonsson would be to come over to North America and work on his game for a season in Providence, but his hype is dying, and sooner or later, he could be labeled a suspect, not a prospect.

8. (10) Jordan Sigalet, G – 24 – Bowling Green (CCHA)

At this point, Jordan Sigalet’s story has become well-known to most with as much as passing interest in Bruins prospects. The 24-year-old Bowling Green goalie publicly declared this year that he is battling an opponent that he cannot beat, but only contain. That opponent is Multiple Sclerosis, a progressive disease that affects the central nervous system, and therefore the brain and the spinal cord. It is too early to project the impact this will have on Sigalet’s career, but if the bravery he has shown thus far is any indication, he will battle long and hard to avoid being limited by this progressive disease.

His play on the ice this year certainly showed no signs of regression though, as the New Westminster, British Columbia native was among the ten finalists for the Hobey Baker Award. A seventh round pick in 2001, Sigalet is yet another good young goaltender in the Bruins system. A very intelligent goaltender with good size and a strong glove hand, Sigalet has not stopped improving throughout his college career. At some point, his condition will become more of a concern, but at this point it is too early to project the effect it will have on his hockey future. Next year he could be playing full time in Providence.

9. (9) David Krejci, C – 18 – Gatineau (QMJHL)

The top pick for the Bruins a year ago, David Krejci opted to leave his native Czech Republic in favor of playing in the QMJHL with the Gatineau Olympiques. The Olympiques, which have recently produced such top prospects as Edmonton’s Ales Hemsky, have won two straight league titles, a rare feat in the league. This year, Krejci teamed up with fellow Czech import Petr Pohl, finishing second and third in club scoring respectively. In 62 games with Gatineau, Krejci put up 22 goals and 41 assists for 63 points, while Pohl, actually in his second season in the QMJHL, registered 27 goals and 59 points.

Instant chemistry between the two was vital to Krejci’s success this year. They played together most of the season and at this point know how to play off each other very well. Krejci, despite having a great shot and solid goal scoring instincts, was the playmaker in the tandem. Undersized at only 5’11, Krejci is well built and strong on the puck for a player his size. His skating is at best slightly above average, but he has worked on it, as well as many other aspects of his game. For example, he is now a much more physical player who finishes all of his checks, as well as a competent defensive player and an asset while killing penalties. Next year he could be one of the league’s top players, and overall has as much upside as any forward in the Bruins system.

10. (14) Martin Karsums, RW – 19 – Moncton (QMJHL)

Drafted one spot behind Krejci in last year’s draft, Karsums is also an undersized European presently playing in the QMJHL. Their games are noticeably different though, as Karsums is a feisty and sometimes dirty player, known as much for his agitating style as his offensive capabilities. After a strong rookie season last year that saw him score 30 goals with the Moncton Wildcats, the native of Riga, Latvia started strong this season but was thrown off by a strange ankle injury that was tough to diagnose. The injury led him to both Boston and New York for supplementary opinions, and meant Karsums only played 30 games all year.

Built like a fire hydrant, Karsums plays much bigger than his listed height of 5’10 would suggest. A devastating hitter and renowned agitator, he has never let his lack of size get in the way of playing his style of game. He has good offensive skills, a strong skating stride and a decent shot, but he likely wouldn’t be a top prospect based on skills alone. Unfortunately, he has barely played in the playoffs, but regardless of how the Wildcats do this time, they are hosting the Memorial Cup next year, so Karsums will undoubtedly have another great shot next year.

11. (NR) Ben Walter, C – 20 – Massachusetts-Lowell (HE)

Few prospects have seen their stock skyrocket this year like Ben Walter. Drafted in 2004 after his sophomore season at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, Walter built on last year’s breakout campaign after Boston used a fifth round pick on him. Born in Quebec, but raised in Langley, B.C., Walter put up 26 goals and 39 points in only 36 games, with his goal total ranking third in all of college hockey. It is all the more impressive considering none of his teammates had more than 12. This earned him a spot on the Hockey East Second All-Star Team.

There is nothing about Walter that stands out. He’s got decent but hardly imposing size at 6’1 and 195 lbs. His hands, skating ability and shot are all assets, but not dominant. Perhaps the biggest strength in Walter’s game is his hockey sense. He simply seems to know not only how to separate himself from defenseman so that teammates can find him, but also how to set up others as well, which is an underrated part of his game. The ability to work well along the boards will help him adjust to the NHL and could allow him to stick in Boston in the future, even if his offensive game does not translate well to the professional game.

12. (11) Masi Marjamaki, LW – 20 – Moose Jaw (WHL)

One day in the future, Boston fans may watch Masi Marjamaki on one wing and Martin Karsums on the other. No matter who centers that line, the opposition will be in for a tough task. Marjamaki, a second round pick of the Bruins in the 2003 draft, has been playing in the WHL since he was 17. He was drafted from the Red Deer Rebels and was later dealt to the Moose Jaw Warriors. He also played for Finland at each of the last two World Junior Championships.

The question mark with Marjamaki is upside. He never scored more than 21 goals or 46 points in the WHL, with that point total coming this year, albeit in only 51 games. Unlike Karsums, Marjamaki does not need to worry about a lack of height, as he stands a sturdy 6’2 and 195 lbs. A very physical player who probably has a poster of Vancouver Canucks pest Jarkko Ruutu on his wall, Marjamaki will need to work on his all-round game in the AHL, especially to improve his foot speed to allow him to become more effective defensively. With his junior career over, Marjamaki could be headed for Providence any day now.

13. (7) Martin Samuelsson, LW – 23 – Providence (AHL)

Few prospects have seen their stock go for as many rollercoaster rides as Martin Samuelsson. In his draft year back in 2000, Samuelsson went from being considered a potential top five or ten selection, to dropping all the way to 27th overall. One way or another his name will always be remembered in Boston circles, as the draft pick used on him was acquired in a package from Colorado in exchange for Ray Bourque. After a strong rookie campaign in the AHL back in 2002-03, where he scored 24 goals, he has a mere eight goals in the last two seasons combined. This year, he put up a paltry seven goals and 15 points, most of which came in the first half of the season.

One of the fastest prospects in hockey, Samuelsson was originally considered to have top offensive upside. That offensive upside has failed to really develop, and at this point in his career, Samuelsson may have to adjust his style to give him a better chance as a third liner rather than a scoring line player. He has good size, which is a great asset for such a fast player. His speed should at least get him another chance in Boston, but unless he rediscovers how to score goals, the odds of him being a big scorer in the NHL are slim.

14. (12) Vladislav Evseev, LW – 20 – Moscow Dynamo/Ufa Salavat Yulayev (Russia)

Vladislav Evseev has a few things in common with Martin Samuelsson. The slick Russian winger was projected before the season to go very early in the 2002 draft, but an injury-riddled campaign meant that he slipped all the way to the 56th pick, where Boston quickly scooped him up. Since then, the Moscow native has struggled to stay in the line-up with Moscow Dynamo of the Russian Super League, and injuries are only part of the problem. This season, he put up a goal and an assist in 12 games with Dynamo, as well as skating in five games without any points for Ufa Salavat Yulayev.

It is Evseev’s upside that keeps him ranked this highly. Based on production alone he should be much lower, but when a player has great size, impressive skating ability and the offensive talent to become an NHL scorer, it’s hard to ignore. Despite having good size, Evseev is not nearly as physical as he could be. Often with these types of players, hockey sense becomes a very limiting factor, and Evseev is not that different. He could still put it together, as he’s not 21 until September, but his stock has more or less been in decline since the start of his draft year.

15. (16) Mike Brown, G – 20 – Saginaw/Owen Sound (OHL)

Goaltender number three on the list is Mike Brown, a native of New York state that really started to gain notice once he was dealt out of the Ontario Hockey League’s resident cellar dweller known as the Saginaw Spirit. Dealt in the middle of the season to the league’s second ranked team in Owen Sound, Brown took off immediately. His goals against average was a whopping 3.68 before the deal, but with his new team, was a 2.48. This really showed what the 20-year-old netminder can do when given the chance.

The fact that Brown faced so many shots for so long in Saginaw was something of a blessing in disguise for his development. For one thing, the 2003 fifth round pick is very strong mentally. Not overly big, Brown has impressive athleticism, capable of making spectacular saves. His positioning could use some work, but it is one flaw that can be improved rather easily with a good work ethic. Owen Sound is facing off against a very comparable opponent, the Kitchener Rangers, in the second round of the OHL playoffs, and after his junior career is over, he could head to the AHL for more grooming.

16. (NR) Matt Hunwick, D – 19 – Michigan (CCHA)

There are some who say that small defensemen are having something of a breakthrough when it comes to being given a shot at regular NHL duty. It used to be the case that blueliners that were not six feet tall were up against almost impossible odds to stick in the big league. That seems to be changing to a certain extent, which is great news for players like Matt Hunwick. Although the University of Michigan prospect stands only 5’10, his stock is on the rise after a strong campaign as he notched six goals and 25 points with the Wolverines, and also played for the United States at the World Junior Championships.

Even though he has offensive skills, Hunwick is most valuable because he’s reliable defensively. A seventh round pick by the Bruins in 2004, he is something of a stay-at-home type first and foremost, which is rare for a player his size. He’s a gifted skater who seems capable of turning it up offensively. Naturally, when a bigger player leans on him he can be overpowered, but if he improves his lower body strength, he could be very effective the way Brian Rafalski has become in New Jersey. Hunwick has two more years in college, and should he continue to improve the way he has, he could start to really make a name for himself.

17. (15) Byron Bitz, LW – 20 – Cornell (ECAC)

As the conventional wisdom goes, big prospects develop slower, and with the case of Byron Bitz, his adjustment to the college game has been somewhat up and down. The towering Saskatchewan native was a fourth round pick out of the BCHL in the 2003 draft, and then headed east to Cornell University. He showed promise in his freshman season, putting up 21 points although only five of them goals, in 31 games, which placed him fourth on the club in scoring. This past season, his production dropped as he scored only 15 points in 39 games.

Bitz is 6’4 and has impressive skating ability for such a big forward. He’s hardly an anomaly though in that despite great size and potential, he has yet to truly grasp how much of an advantage his size and strength can be. Bitz’s offensive skills are impressive for a big player, with good hands and solid hockey sense, but he remains very raw. The potential is there, but this season was something of a setback after a strong first season at Cornell. Boston will be patient with Bitz though, knowing that he’s a project that will need plenty of time to refine his game.

18. (NR) Yan Stastny, C – 22 – Nurenberg Ice Tigers (Germany)

Yan Stastny, the son of Quebec Nordiques legend Peter Stastny, finally broke out this year. A late bloomer, Stastny was drafted in the eight round of the 2002 draft by Boston after he completed his freshman season at Notre Dame. He came back as a sophomore but then cut his ties with the Fighting Irish and went to Germany. This past season, his second in the Germany Elite League, Stastny broke out offensively putting up 54 points, 24 of them goals, in 51 games with the Nuernberg Ice Tigers.

The Quebec-born center is obviously not as skilled as his father, but seems to have found his offensive game this season. Not big at only 5’11 and 175 lbs, Stastny is willing to throw his body around to a certain extent. He has also shown the capability to play defense in a pinch, which is a great asset for any young player. At this point in his career, Stastny has re-emerged and would be well served by returning to North America to try his luck in the AHL. It is hard to project how successful he would be at that level, but with this season’s breakthrough, there is reason for optimism when it comes to Peter’s son.

19. (NR) Ashton Rome, RW – 19 – Red Deer Rebels (WHL)

The youngest of four hockey-playing brothers, Ashton Rome has always been driven to succeed. His brother Aaron finished a strong WHL career last year and is currently with the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks of the AHL. Ashton was passed over in his first year of draft eligibility, but that did not stop him from working. His game really started to come together down the stretch and in the playoffs last year with the Moose Jaw Warriors, which led Boston to take him in the fourth round of last year’s draft. This season, Rome put up 46 points while splitting the season between Moose Jaw and the Red Deer Rebels.

Only 6’0 and under 200 lbs, Rome plays bigger than his size. Although not particularly gifted, he knows how to get the most out of his abilities. Rome has great strength, which combined with good skating ability is what makes him dangerous offensively at this level. Over his career, one knock on him is that he needs to know how to play within his limits. He is at his best when he’s crashing and banging, dropping the gloves when necessary. With the right refinements, he has definite upside as a checker, but he will need to make some adjustments mentally and understand what he does best for the team.

20. (NR) Kevin Regan, G – 20 – New Hampshire (HE)

The fourth goaltender on the list, Kevin Regan was a ninth round pick in 2003, and did not even start his college career until this season. He wasted no time making a name for himself, starting the year as the back-up, but by midseason having taken over the starting duties. A freshman at the University of New Hampshire, Regan had a 2.35 GAA and a sparkling .928 save percentage for the surprising Wildcats. He has a chance to start for another three years before turning to the professional ranks. In a word, Regan could be described as intriguing.

An average sized netminder, the native of South Boston succeeds in large part thanks to great mental toughness. An athletic goaltender that relies on his reflexes, he is the type of goalie that could really surprise. Reflex goalies are hard to project, which makes the ninth round pick used on Regan all the more intelligent. Regan is also advanced in his ability to play the puck, although if he makes it to Boston, he’ll likely not be able to fully apply that skill anyways.

Sean Keogh contributed to this article. Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.