Defense, goaltending main strengths of Boston Bruins minor league system

By Richard Murray

David Warsofsky - Boston Bruins

Photo: David Warsofsky is one of several defensemen competing for a spot on the Boston Bruins NHL roster. (Leon T. Switzer/Icon SMI)

The Boston Bruins are not the deepest team in minor league prospects, but some of the ones they do have could be impact prospects sooner than later. Ryan Spooner is off to a great start in Providence as one of the teams top scorers, in only his first year at the professional level. In goal Niklas Svedberg has jumped over Michael Hutchinson, and if he keeps up his solid play could end up being Tuukka Rask's back up sooner rather than later.

AHL

Jared Knight, RW, 21

When the Bruins drafted Jared Knight they probably envisioned more of a speedy player with quick release coming off the rush, but Knight has transformed into a gritty two-way player for the Bruins.

"When we drafted him we saw a lot of goal scoring ability because he has a great release," Bruins Assistant GM Don Sweeney said.

"He is a hard-nosed player that plays in straight lines and gets to the net. He can play either side, will shoot from either side, or he will drive to the net with authority. He has also developed an appreciation playing without the puck by taking the body and playing defense."

Because of injuries he has played in only five games this season, including a two-game conditioning stint in the ECHL.

"He went down [to the ECHL] for two games to get his legs back, and so he could also get himself into game shape,” Sweeney said. “Ultimately we expect him in the [Providence] lineup this weekend."

Had Knight not had injury issues he probably would have been invited to Bruins camp as he was expected to compete for a spot on the third line. Knight has yet to register a point this year in four professional games.

Ryan Spooner, C, 20

Outside of Dougie Hamilton, Spooner may be the best bet to make the NHL roster out of training camp. Spooner was one of a handful of player to get invited to camp, and Bruins management has high hopes for the crafty forward.

"With Ryan's skill set we look forward to see him playing with NHL players, and we'll see how he handles the speed of the [NHL] game," Sweeney said.

"We should also be able to see what his strengths are and we should be able to get a good indication of where he measures up. We have had a good indication of his play so far at the AHL, and he has had a bit of success down there. We are hoping he can continue to bring that forward in an NHL environment."

Spooner has had a lot of success and has been one of the top offensive weapons for Providence with 20 points, in 26 games.

"He is just shy of a point-per-game player, and he has been given an opportunity to play with Chris Bourque and Jamie Tardiff who are older guys," Sweeney said. "Ryan has had lots of power play time, so we have been using him in situations where he can use his skill set and take advantage on the ice."

Niklas Svedberg, G, 23

With some stellar play it didn't not take Svedberg long to claim the starting reigns in Providence. The young Swedish netminder has posted a solid 2.46 goals against average, a .920 save percentage, and a 15-6-1 record, in only his first season in North America.

"He has been one of the pleasant surprises for us down in Providence," Sweeney said.

"Adjusting to the North American ice surface is difficult for anyone especially a goalie because of where shots come from and how players get on you quicker," Sweeney said. "He has had some adjustments learning how to play the puck more, and he has had some growing pains in that area but he is working at it. He has found a way to win games for us, and he battles for every save."

It came as a surprise to some that Svedberg was not invited to Bruins training camp, but camp is only going to be about a week.  So the Bruins do not need anyone else, already having two goalies in Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin in camp.

"If we need him we can easily pull him up, and this way the continuity stays with Providence," Sweeney said. "Knock on wood, but we could easily call someone up.

Max Sauve, LW, 22

If he is healthy Max Sauve can be one of the top players in the AHL, but staying on the ice during his pro career has been a problem. Sauve's injury problems cost him a legit shot at the NHL level when he was called up last season.

"He got called up for a game last year, and he got injured in his first shift," Sweeney said. "It has been a very frustrating and difficult process for him."

Sauve has not put up the numbers this season in the AHL that he has in others with only 13 points in 29 games. He put in a lot of work to prepare for camp this fall, but an injury again will prevent him from going to this season's camp.

"Overall, he is identifying himself as a player that is very productive when healthy," Sweeney said. "He continues to look to get stronger and recognize where and when he can get to the hard areas. He is trying to learn how to get to pucks and score goals without putting himself in [a vulnerable spot]."

If Chris Bourque and Ryan Spooner grab a roster spot with the Bruins at the NHL level, Sauve's health and production will be vital if Providence wants to make a playoff push come spring

Carter Camper, RW/C, 24

Camper made a splash last season in the AHL as he made the All-Star game. He put together a solid season with 48 points, in 60 games.

"Carter came in last year and he was a pleasant surprise for everyone," Sweeney said. "He made the All-Star team, and he was very productive."

Camper has been okay this year for the Bruins with 18 points in 27 games, but off-season hip-surgery has bogged down his play a bit. With some players possibly moving up to the NHL with the season starting, the Providence Bruins will depend more upon their undersized pivot going forward.

"The season is still pretty young, and we are looking for him to step back up to the number one center role down the stretch," Sweeney said.

Lane MacDermid, LW, 23

There is little question that MacDermid is being groomed into Shawn Thornton's replacement, the only real question is when that will be. MacDermid continues to improve his skills outside of the boxing ring.

"We want Lane to be a productive player at the NHL level," Sweeney said. "He can kill penalties, and he has been down in Providence each and every night. He has really learned that craft, he as learned more about down ice pressure, stick position, and we have told him that he has to keep working on these kind of things."

It appears that the rugged forward is getting closer to becoming an NHL regular, unfortunately for MacDermid is still probably a year or so away from taking over Shawn Thornton's role on the Bruins fourth line. If for some reason Shawn Thornton can not play because of an injury or other reason look for MacDermid to get a crack at the Bruins line up.

"We aren't too concerned about [his toughness], but the overall ability to play and execute, and become a productive two-way player is something that he has done a really good job with, Sweeney said.

In 32 AHL games this year, MacDermid has registered 73 penalty minutes and five points. He was called up for the big clubs training camp, but others like Chris Bourque and Ryan Spooner figure to have the inside edge on the spots available, especially with veteran Jay Pandolfo invited to camp.

Torey Krug, D, 21

After a standout career at Michigan State, Torey Krug worked hard this past summer to get ready for training camp, in hopes to earning an NHL job. Now with the season starting late, Krug has had a few injury issues, so he was not invited to camp.

"He wanted the opportunity to come to training camp to win a spot, but he went down with an injury," Sweeney said. "He had a little bit of a set back with a lower body injury, and it took him a little while to get over that. He is getting back now, and he is looking to get back to where he started the season."

Krug's excellent puck-moving abilities allowed him to jump into two NHL games at the end of last season, so he may have an upper hand on other defenseman down in Providence for a call-up.

"We're very excited to have added him to our [organization], and he stepped right into an NHL game last season," Sweeney said. "He played a great game last season, and I think that speaks to his puck-moving abilities, and how he processes the game."

If Krug wants to become an NHL regular he needs to adjust to the bigger sized players at the NHL level as the 5'9 blueliner lacks size.

"Torey has to be a productive two-way player, and getting used to playing against big strong guys because he is not the biggest guy in the world," Sweeney said. "That takes a little bit of understanding to be able to close off space, and that he can't invite trouble."

In 26 AHL games this season, Krug has tallied eight points.

Michael Hutchinson, G, 22

There were a lot of high hopes for Hutchinson when drafted in the third round, in 2008. Unfortunately for the Bruins he has been a bit of a disappointment, as he could not hold onto the starting job this season in Providence with the emergence of Niklas Svedberg.

Hutchinson showed some promise last season recording a 13-14-1 record with a 2.36 goals against average and a .924 save percentage. This season he has struggled to keep pucks out of the net in his limited time in goal with his save percentage below the .900-mark and his goals against just under 3.00. If Hutchinson is still young, but he needs to show some more consistency as the Bruins are very deep goalie wise with Svedberg, Malcolm Subban, Zane Gothberg, and Lars Volden all in the system.

Tommy Cross, D, 23

After 22 games in the ECHL it looks like Cross has found a home in the AHL along Providence blue line. Cross is more known for his defensive and leadership abilities, but he does have the ability to chip in offensively. The former Boston College captain won two national titles with the Eagles, and the Bruins hope he can bring that kind of leadership to the big club. Cross is still probably two to three years away from being an NHL player.

David Warsofsky, D, 22

The 5' 9 defenseman is in his second year of being a pro after three successful seasons at Boston University. Under Jack Parker Warsfosky helped back the BU blue line to a National Championship in 2009, and now he must use those tools and continue to develop his game at the AHL level. After a 29 point campaign last season the puck moving defenseman will look to build upon those totals down the stretch. His size is going to always be an issue, but if he can overcome that he may have the makings to be a power play specialist and a top-four defenseman.  Like Cross, Warsofsky is still a few years away from being an NHL regular.

Warsofsky was invited to NHL camp, but he is a long shot to crack a roster spot with the likes of Dougie Hamilton also closing in on that final defensive spot. If Adam McQuaid can not go because of injuries, Warsofsky might be able to find himself on the NHL blue line in a sixth or seventh defenseman type role.

Zach Trotman, D, 22

After three seasons at Lake Superior, Trotman is in his first full pro season, and he is fitting in well on the Providence blue line. Trotman has put up 12 points so far for the P-Bruins, but at 6'4 inches, he also has the ability to be a very punishing defenseman. College served Trotman well, allowing him to get bigger and stronger while developing his skills. At the 2010 draft many were not sure if he would be able to make the NHL, but now he has rounded into a very good prospect with a lot of upside. He is still a few years away, but he is on track to become an NHL player.

Matt Bartkowski, D, 24

Bartkowski has strong puck-moving abilities, and unlike Warsofsky, he does not have to overcome any size issues standing at 6'1. Bartkowski is closing in on being NHL ready as he was invited to NHL camp on a short list of players. He has always put up decent numbers in the AHL, but will need to round his game to form if he wants to lock in a spot this camp.

In 30 AHL games this season, he has put up nine points. In 50 AHL games last season, Bartkowski was able to tally 22 points.

Ryan Button, D, 21

Button has all the skills to become a strong offensive defenseman, but for some reason his skill set has not transitioned onto the stat sheet. In 58 professional games last season, Button only registered eight points. He has zero points this season. If Button wants to get to the next level he needs to bring his talent to the stat sheet.

Colby Cohen, D, 23

Like so many of the Bruins defensive prospects down on the farm, Cohen is an offensive minded puck moving defenseman. He has gotten to play a lot with former BU teammate David Warsofsky, but Cohen has not been able to bring the same offensive abilities he had in college to the pro game yet. If Cohen wants to become successful he needs to work on his defensive game play while rounding out his offensive skill set that made him a second round pick in 2007.

Cohen has three NHL games under his belt, but appears to still be a year or two away from the NHL.

Kevan Miller, D, 25

The former University of Vermont product enjoyed a successful season last year for the Providence Bruins, but Miller still has his work cut out for him if he wants to make the NHL. He has many characteristics the Bruins are fond of, as he is not afraid to drop the gloves, and with a few more seasons on the farm, he could round into a bottom pairing defenseman. He only has two points this season so far.

ECHL

Adam Morrison, G, 21

Morrison has struggled at the professional level, and has not stood out during the Bruins summer Development Camps. Playing in the ECHL for the South Carolina Stingrays, he has a goals against north of 4.00.

Morrison is likely a career minor league player.

Tyler Randell, RW, 21

If Randall wants to make the NHL he is going to have to be able to round out the rest of his game like Lane MacDermid and Shawn Thornton, because his best asset is his fists. After four points in 22 ECHL games he has been called up to Providence for the past few games. At 6' 1 he has decent size, but not the type of size that can be used to intimidate the opposition. Randall is still along ways off from the NHL. He has six career professional points the past two seasons.

Follow Richard Murray on Twitter via: @Richie_Murray