Goaltending depth main strength for Boston Bruins’ prospect pool

By Bill Ladd

Jared Knight - Boston Bruins

Photo: Winger Jared Knight has made his professional debut this season, playing for the Providence Bruins of the AHL. (Michael Tureski/Icon SMI)

Outside of Tyler Seguin, the Boston Bruins have not had much to show for their efforts at the draft table under General Manager Peter Chiarelli. Jordan Caron is the only other player drafted by Chiarelli with more than a dozen NHL games played, and even he has not cemented himself a place in Boston's lineup yet. However there is reason for optimism, defenseman Dougie Hamilton is one of the best prospects in the world and the Bruins have one of the deepest and most talented stable of goaltending prospects in the NHL.

Left Wing

The left side of Boston's prospect pool is comprised mostly of depth players, with Providence (AHL) currently developing several potential third line candidates. The one notable exception is the talented Max Sauve. The slick winger has elite skating and NHL quality hands, but he has a tall, slender build that has led to significant and repeated injuries. Sauve is currently skating on a line with center Ryan Spooner and the tandem has excellent chemistry. The key for Sauve this season and beyond will be consistent health.

Providence's leading goal scorer from last season was rookie Craig Cunningham. The diminutive winger started the season slowly but got stronger as the year progressed and is looking to pick up where he left off in 2012-13. Tough and determined, Cunningham plays a smart, pro-style game and is effective at both ends of the ice. He started this season in a checking role for Providence.

Lane MacDermid is back for another tour with Providence Bruins. The resident enforcer continues to develop in the AHL while performing his pugilistic duties admirably. MacDermid is considered by many to be Shawn Thornton's heir apparent, but with Thornton recently re-signing in Boston he will have to wait a little longer before getting his chance to show what he can do on the NHL stage.

Justin Florek is a big, hard working power winger. When his college season ended last season he got a taste of AHL action and put up two goals and four points in his first eight professional games. Florek plays a physical, two-way game and could develop into an important role player in the future.

At the junior level, Anthony Camara is having a break-out year. Camara has found instant chemistry on a line with former seventh overall pick Mark Scheifele (WPG), and is among the top point producers for the team. Up until this season Camara was better known for his willingness to fight anyone and hit everything, but he always had surprisingly good hands and skating ability, and is finally showing what he can do now in an expanded role.

The Bruins only have one left wing playing at the college level in Western Michigan's Colton Hargrove. Hargrove is another big, power-forward, who is similar in style to Florek. At this summer's development camp, Hargrove showed some surprising hockey sense and good chemistry on a line with Seth Griffith, exchanging passes in several of the scrimmages. He also showed his snarly side, frequently getting physical around the goal and after whistles.

Center

Ryan Spooner leads the list as Boston's highest rated forward prospect. Spooner possesses high-end hands, outstanding vision, and elite skating ability. When Spooner was drafted, he was a one-dimensional, offensive forward, but he worked hard last season to improve his defensive game and became one of the OHL's most dangerous shorthanded threats. However, he does still need to work on his strength, faceoffs, and his ability to win puck battles along the walls.

Despite coming into this season with seven points in eight AHL games, Spooner is still technically a rookie, and as such the Providence coaching staff has put him in more of a secondary role to start the season. Spooner is centering the second line and seeing second-unit power play time, but is already leading the team in assists and points.

Carter Camper is one of Boston's more underrated prospects. Camper has been a dominant player at every level he has played but because of his size and the fact that he went undrafted, his potential and talent can be overlooked. He understands the game and knows how to attack the soft spots in a team's defensive structure. He will never be the biggest or the fastest, but he can play all three forward positions and works extremely well with other offensive-minded players.

The Bruins only have one forward prospect playing in Europe is Alexander Khokhlachev. A talented offensive player with quick hands, feet, and tremendous versatility, Khokhlachev can play all three forward positions and anywhere on the power play, including the point and in front of the net. After two years in the OHL, The Russian forward decided to make the jump to professional hockey, and joined his father's team, Spartak, in the KHL. However, the league is proving to be more challenging than the 19-year-old anticipated and he has not been very productive. Khokhlachev has been named to the Russian junior team for the Subway Series and the Russian World Junior entry and he should be able to show off more of his offensive game in those tournaments playing against his peers.

Ben Sexton is a high-energy player with explosive skating and a heady, determined two-way game. The captain of Clarkson University, Sexton has had trouble staying healthy and has missed almost as many games as he has played in over the previous two seasons. A healthy and productive season would go a long way towards making Sexton a viable NHL option one day.

Mark Goggin is a center, who while listed as a Bruins prospect, needs to do a lot in his collegiate career to have a future with the organization. Goggin has been injured on a number of occasions since he was drafted in in the seventh round of 2008, and even missed the entire 2010-11 season because of a wrist injury. He has yet to suit up with Dartmouth this year.

Right Wing

In Providence, Jared Knight is the most notable new addition to the position. The rookie plays a very mature two-way game and is very well conditioned. His two-way prowess has earned him the responsibility of playing on Providence's shutdown line, alongside AHL veteran Christian Hanson and Craig Cunningham. It will be interesting to see if Knight can also earn some power play time, where his NHL caliber shot and strong net front presence would also be put to good use.

In college, the Bruins have the reigning ECAC rookie of the year in right wing Brian Ferlin. There was not much expected out of Ferlin when the Bruins announced they were selecting an overage, 19-year-old in the fourth round of the 2011 Entry Draft, but from his first day at development camp, Ferlin has surprised and impressed. He plays a heady offensive game, using his size and powerful strides to get on loose pucks and push through traffic. He reads offensive players well and is at his best when playing with other quick thinkers who can get him the puck in position to unload his heavy, accurate wrist shot. Ferlin plays a determined game but is not quite what you would consider a power forward.

The Bruins have another, somewhat unheralded, prospect playing college hockey in Alexander Fallstrom. A big, industrious player who skates well and plays a smart defensive game, it took Fallstrom two years to get his offensive game going for Harvard, but he finally broke out as a junior, putting up 13 goals and 25 points in 28 games. However, it is his defensive game and physical tools that will make or break his professional career, which may start as soon as this spring.

At the junior level, the Bruins are excited about the play of another mid-round, overage player named Seth Griffith. Another highly cerebral and versatile player in Boston's system, Griffith can play all three forward positions, has terrific vision and quick, slick hands. Griffith was drafted as a center but is currently playing on Max Domi's right wing for London, and the two mesh well as they both know how to get open, make plays, and beat players one-on-one. Griffith is currently on pace for about 100 points but even if he falls short of those lofty totals, it is clear he has taken another step forward in his development as an offensive player.

Another junior player who seemingly came out of nowhere this season is tough-guy Cody Payne. For much of 2011-12, Payne was buried on the depth chart of a deep Plymouth club, but when several of Plymouth's top players left for the World Junior tournament, Payne was given an expanded role and the Bruins were there to see it. Payne impressed the Bruins enough in the small sampling to take a chance on him in the fifth round and their gamble is paying off. Payne has already surpassed his entire offensive output from last season while still providing a physical, agitating presence for the Whalers.

Tyler Randell rounds out the Bruins list of right wing prospects. Randell is a big, energetic forward who plays a power game and is a willing combatant. He started the 2012-13 season with South Carolina in the ECHL. Randell's long-range upside is as a fourth line enforcer but competition for that job is getting crowded in Boston, which means Randell needs to continue to show he is developing if he is going to stay in the picture with MacDermid, Payne, and Camara.

Defense

Leading the way for the rookies is defenseman Torey Krug. The highly intelligent puck-mover has been paired with veteran Garnett Exelby on what is clearly the team's top pairing. Krug plays with poise, speed, and bravado, though the defensive part of his game remains a work in progress. When and if the NHL resumes, he will be in direct competition with defenseman Dougie Hamilton for the final roster spot in Boston.

Another undersized, puck-mover who hopes to make his mark this season is defenseman David Warsofsky. It took the 22-year-old a little while to get going last season, but by the end of the year, he had hit his stride and was regularly producing for Providence. Like Krug, Warsofsky is small, but courageous and highly mobile. They differ in that Warsofsky has a better shot, and is more of a risk taker offensively. If Warsofsky hopes to make it to the NHL on the strength of his offensive game, he is going to have to pick up the pace and really be a driving force for Providence on the power play this season.

Providence's best defenseman last year was the unheralded Kevan Miller. Signed as a free agent out of the University of Vermont, the rookie made a seamless transition to the pro game, leading the Providence Bruins with a plus-20. At 24 years of age, he is older than most of the defensemen in Providence but it should not take away from what was an impressive debut. Miller is a big, heavy defenseman who moves well, competes hard and consistently makes the safe, smart play.

Matt Bartkowski raised expectations after a strong initial training camp in 2010, and he has consistently been among the best defensemen in Providence, but he has not quite been able to push through to the next level, and it seems as though his development has now stalled. Bartkowski started the season paired with Kevan Miller, but has been in and out of what has been a competitive defensive lineup.

Like Bartkowski, Colby Cohen's game seems to have stagnated. Cohen has the potential to be a big, two-way defenseman, and power play option thanks to a heavy one-timer, but so far he has been an inconsistent and oft-injured performer for the Providence Bruins. Cohen is in the final year of his entry-level-contract with Boston and with the infusion of new talent in Providence, will have to turn things around in a hurry in order to secure an extension.

Five years after trading up to draft Tommy Cross the Bruins finally got to see the 35th overall pick go pro. It is not that Cross' time at Boston College wasn't well-spent, he won two national titles and earned the captaincy last season, but he also had to work through several serious injuries and some scouts believe that he does not completely trust his repaired knee. Cross projects as a steady, physical, shutdown defenseman with strong character and leadership qualities, but Providence's new-found depth has him starting his pro career in the ECHL. Given Cross' pedigree and experience it would be no surprise to see him force a call-up to Providence relatively quickly.

One of Boston's more enigmatic prospects is defenseman Ryan Button. The highly mobile and creative puck mover has never been able to put up points at a level consistent with his physical tools. Last year, Button split time between the AHL and ECHL, but as the year wore on he started to find his game and played well down the stretch for Providence. Button picked up right where he left off in training camp this season and has forced his way into the Providence lineup.

Another exciting newcomer making some noise in Providence is Zach Trotman, a big, mobile, two-way defenseman with an uncanny knack for getting his sizzling wrist shot through traffic. Trotman was the last player taken in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, but he has improved steadily and was a standout performer in each of the last two Boston Bruin development camps. He started the year as a healthy scratch but has since managed to work his way into the lineup.

The most exciting prospect in the Bruins stable of youngsters is undoubtedly defenseman Dougie Hamilton. Boston General Manager Peter Chiarelli has compared Hamilton's style to Rob Blake, and the reigning CHL defenseman of the year certainly shares a lot of similarities, including size, skill, mobility, physicality, intelligence, and a desire to be a difference maker at both ends of the ice. At this point in Hamilton's growth, his offensive game is more developed than his defensive one. He can rush or pass the puck out of danger, and is exceptional at joining the attack and slipping into soft spots in the opposition's coverage. Defensively however, he still gets caught being overly aggressive at times.

Matt Grzelcyk is off to a fantastic start in his freshman season with Boston University, managing about a point-per-game and looking sharp on the Terrier's powerplay. Grzelcyk is a dynamic offensive defenseman who can skate, handle the puck, and see the ice extremely well. Grzelcyk also had a strong showing at this summer's US World Junior evaluation camp, and if he continues to play with the same kind of poise and presence he showed in his first two weeks at BU, he could be a surprise addition.

Yale freshman Rob O'Gara is not a player you hear talked about very often, but he has been impressive in every development camp he has taken part of. He has NHL size and is a fluid skater. He plays a poised, cerebral game, and is more of a calm, defensive presence than a pace-pusher. He has flown under the radar because he played New England Prep School hockey the past two seasons, but now at Yale, he will get a chance to show his complete game on a bigger stage.

The Bruins lone prospect in the USHL is defenseman Matt Benning. The nephew of Bruins Assistant GM Jim Benning certainly has good bloodlines, as his father Brian played over 500 games in the NHL. Matt, is a stout 6'0, 220 lb defenseman who plays a heavy game down low, but also knows how to move the puck and integrate himself into the offense. Based on his performance at development camp, he has to work on his skating and quickness, but he is off to a great start this season with Dubuque, putting up seven points in his first 10 games.

The Bruins have one defenseman playing overseas in Maxim Chudinov. Coming off a sensational season that saw him set career highs in goals, points and ice time for Severstal (KHL), Chudinov is a stocky, puck-moving defenseman who skates well and packs a big shot. He is also extremely competitive and willing to play the game with a nasty edge. Now playing with St. Petersburg SKA, Chudinov does not have any immediate plans to play in North America.

Goaltending

The Bruins added two promising goaltenders at the end of last season, and suddenly find themselves rich with depth and talent at the position.

In Providence newcomer Niklas Svedberg has been outstanding. The former Swedish Elite League champion and MVP signed as a free agent with Boston when it became clear to management that Tim Thomas was going to sit out the season. Combative and athletic, Svedberg has excellent lateral mobility and has been a driving force behind Providence's victories this season. The sample size on Svedberg is still very small so it will be interesting to see if he can maintain this high level of play throughout the much longer, North American season.

Michael Hutchinson is also coming off a strong season for Providence, posting a .927 save percentage over 29 games. Hutchinson is a tall, technically sound goaltender who can be unbeatable when he is on his game, but has struggled with consistency his entire career. Last year, he had the benefit of playing behind Anton Khudobin and seeing fewer games with more time to prepare between starts helped him to be at his best every time out. If Hutchinson can overcome his consistency issues he could play himself into the starter's role, but his current makeup and pattern of play suggests he is hard-wired to be a backup.

The second ranked prospect in the Bruins organization is goaltender Malcolm Subban. Long limbed and extremely athletic, Subban plays the butterfly style but he also has the ability to abandon technique in order to make the unconventional, and sometimes spectacular, saves. Almost unbeatable in shootout situations, he has explosive lateral mobility and goes post-to-post better than any goalie in junior hockey. Some scouts have criticized his glove hand, and there is a belief that he could stand to improve the technical aspects of his game. However, Subban is intelligent, coachable and has an excellent work ethic. Expect to see the young goaltender in net for Canada at this winter's World Junior Tournament.

The Bruins drafted Zane Gothberg with a long range developmental schedule in mind, and Gothberg has exhibited steady progress and consistent growth at every level. He has gone from being the best goaltender in Minnesota high school to the best goalie in the USHL. Now he takes his talents to the University of North Dakota. UND has a returning senior goaltender so it may take Gothberg some time to earn the starting role, but he is already off to a strong start, making several tough stops in a 4-1 win over Alaska-Anchorage. Gothberg is a big, technically sound goaltender who is well-liked for his quirky personality and drive. He is still several years away from competing for an NHL job, but his development suggests he has the potential to become an NHL starter.

Coming off a spectacular playoff run with Jokipojat in Finland's second league, it was hoped Lars Volden had earned himself a ticket to the SM-Liiga, but the Blues thought it better to loan him out to Jokipojat again this season. Volden is a tall, quick butterfly goalie who has drawn some criticism for his mental toughness. Because he plays in Europe and is not subject to the NHL's 50 contract limit, the Bruins can afford to let Volden develop slowly, but if he expects to compete with Boson's suddenly deep and talented crop of crease prospects, he's going to have to elevate his game and consistency.

Rounding out the position is Adam Morrison, who is in the first year of his entry-level contract with the Bruins. Possessing a fair amount of size at 6'4, Morrison remains a long term project at this point in his development. He is currently playing in the ECHL with the South Carolina Stingrays.

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