The Boston Bruins have an important crop of youngsters coming up through the system. Their minor league affiliate got a boost from two of Boston's best forward prospects in Ryan Spooner and Jared Knight. The Bruins are also well represented in the OHL with three potential Team Canada candidates in Dougie Hamilton, Malcolm Subban, and Seth Griffith, and in college where one of last year's best freshmen, Brian Ferlin, will be joined by two more talented youngsters in Matt Grzelcyk and Zane Gothberg.
Top Pro Prospect
Ryan Spooner, C/LW, Providence Bruins (AHL)
The Providence Bruins have several exciting new faces this season but no one has more potential than center Ryan Spooner. The Bruins second round selection in 2010 is a highly skilled offensive player, possessing elite skating as well as outstanding hands and vision. Spooner also worked diligently to improve his defensive game and strength last season, which will be critical as he transitions from the junior ranks to the professional.
Providence Head Coach Bruce Cassidy appears intent on easing the young scorer into the league by putting him in more of a secondary scoring role. However, Spooner finished each of the last two seasons in Providence, picking up seven points in eight games, so his transition should be smoother than many. Spooner possesses the type of dynamic talent that allows him to control the play, so if his transition to the AHL continues to be smooth, expect him to be among the top players in Providence by the end of the season.
Unsigned for 2013-14
Colby Cohen, D, Providence Bruins (AHL)
This is an important year for defenseman Colby Cohen. The former national champion out of Boston University certainly has a big frame and some NHL qualities but in his two prior professional seasons has failed to distinguish himself in the AHL, and consistently makes questionable decisions. Cohen has also been publicly criticized by the team for his work ethic. To make matters worse, he has had trouble staying healthy and has missed considerable time over the past two seasons.
Cohen started this season playing on Providence's second pair, but after two poor outings was scratched in favor of newcomer Zach Trotman. With the depth coming up in Providence and the ECHL, Cohen is going to have to turn his season around quickly in order to earn a contract extension.
Carter Camper, C, Providence Bruins (AHL)
One prospect flying under the radar in Providence is second year pro Carter Camper. An offensively gifted player, Camper led the team in scoring last year with a modest 48 points in 69 games.
Camper is a small but extremely intelligent offensive forward. He went undrafted because he lacks size and dynamic skating, but still managed to be a top scorer at every level he has played. This season, Camper looks quicker and more confident in camp, and with the addition of a veteran scorer like Chris Bourque on his wing, is poised for a breakout year offensively.
Top Junior Prospect
Dougie Hamilton, D, Niagara Ice Dogs, (OHL)
Boston has several exciting prospects playing in the junior ranks this season, but no prospect in Boston's system has as much potential as defenseman Dougie Hamilton. The 2012 CHL defenseman of the year has almost unlimited upside thanks to a huge frame, excellent mobility, and a savvy offensive game. Hamilton's passing is as good as his puck-rushing and he excels at slipping into soft spots in coverage in the offensive zone. In his own zone however, he continues to be a work in progress. He will take himself out of position going for a big hit, step up to try to pick off a cross ice aerial pass, or vacate the front of the net to chase down a puck carrier.
When Hamilton makes it to the NHL, which could be as soon as a new CBA is finalized, his biggest adjustment will be to tone down his overly aggressive instincts. Fortunately, the young man is as intelligent as he is talented and it should just be a matter of time before he finds the right balance.
Seth Griffith, RW, London Knights (OHL)
Last spring when Boston saw that Seth Griffith was still on the board in the fifth round, they traded winger Benoit Pouliot to move up and grab him. Boston was very familiar with Griffith, having seen him play alongside Jared Knight for much of his OHL career, and the early returns look like they are going to get tremendous value from their maneuvering, as Griffith got off to an explosive start with London this season, earning player of the week honors in the OHL.
Griffith is not big and he is not particularly fast, but he has soft hands and a terrific mind for the offensive side of the game. Playing on a line with potential top-15 draft pick Max Domi, Griffith could realistically crack 100 points this season and has a legitimate shot at making Canada's World Junior team.
Unsigned for 2013-14
Anthony Camara, LW, Barrie Colts (OHL)
Anthony Camara has suddenly found himself in a new role, playing alongside Mark Scheifele (WPG) on Barrie's first line. Camara was drafted for his toughness but right from his first development camp, displayed surprisingly good hands for someone with his pugilistic pedigree. Currently he has 11 goals and seven assists in 13 games, a pace that should shatter his previous season totals of 16 goals and 17 assists through 66 games. Barring any sort of major setback, the Bruins seem likely to ink Camara to an entry-level contract before the 2012-13 season is over.
Top Amateur Prospect
Brian Ferlin, RW, Cornell Big Red (ECAC)
Ferlin was one of the top freshman in the nation last year, managing 21 points in 26 games for Cornell, and finishing as the top freshman in the ECAC.
Drafted as a 19-year-old in 2011, Ferlin is a late-bloomer, perhaps the result of growing up in a non-traditional hockey market, but he has impressed at every level he has played. He is a big-bodied forward who moves well and understands how to play with offensive players. With Cornell returning most of their top scorers from last season, expect Ferlin to have an even better sophomore year.
Freshmen to Watch
Matt Grzelcyk, D, Boston University Terriers (Hockey East)
Zane Gothberg, G, North Dakota Sioux (WCHA)
The Bruins have two freshmen worth watching in college hockey this season.
Defenseman Matt Grzelcyk is a local kid who had a strong development camp for Boston, a good showing at the US World Junior evaluation camp and is off to a strong start at BU, playing a top-four role and quarterbacking their powerplay. Grzelcyk lacks size but is an excellent skater with good hands and smarts. He may remind many BU and Bruin fans of David Warsofsky, who helped BU to a national title and is currently developing in Boston's system.
After winning the goaltender of the year award in the USHL, goaltender Zane Gothberg is moving on to the University of North Dakota. Gothberg is a quirky but competitive, athletic goaltender with long limbs and a hybrid style. He may not see as much time as Grzelcyk because UND has a returning senior goalie, but Gothberg is being groomed for the starting job and could surprise by earning the job ahead of schedule.
Top European Prospect
Maxim Chudinov, St. Petersburg SKA (KHL)
The Bruins don not have a strong presence in the European leagues. Their best player in Europe is defenseman Maxim Chudinov, though he has shown little interest in coming to North America, which is a shame for Boston fans because Chudinov was one of the best defensemen in the KHL in 2011-12.
Rookie to Watch
Alexander Khokhlachev, C/LW, Moscow Spartak (KHL)
One first year pro worth watching in Europe is forward Alexander Khokhlachev. After signing a contract with Boston as a sign of good faith, Khokhlachev returned home to play for his father's KHL team in Moscow. "Koko" as he is called, is an industrious, skilled forward who needs to continue to add strength and explosiveness to his heady skill game. There is a chance his development will be accelerated by playing against professionals, but there is also concern over how he will be handled and what role he will play as a 19-year-old in a professional league that is seeing an infusion of NHL talent.