Bruins Top 20 prospects

By Janine Pilkington

1. (1) Phil Kessel, C Age: 19
Acquired: 1st round, 5th overall (2006) Grade: 8.5B

If there’s one thing that Phil Kessel has proven in his rookie NHL season, it’s that he’s a hard-working and resilient player. Kessel has had his share of struggles, including a cancer diagnosis and subsequent surgery, where, remarkably, he only missed a couple weeks of play. A player known for his natural scoring ability and blazing speed, Kessel, had little impact on the scoresheet in the early part of his rookie season. At times, he looked like a boy among men, knocked around by bigger stronger players and losing battles with the puck. The Bruins committed to work with Kessel to make him a more complete player, and as a result, his decision making, the use of his linemates and his defensive play have improved drastically.

For Kessel, it has meant playing with a number of different linemates, and spending much of the season on the fourth line in a limited role. He participated in the NHL Young Stars game, where he recorded a hat trick, and following the All-Star break, injuries to some of Boston’s key players have created more opportunity for Kessel. Thus far, he has answered the bell, playing with increased confidence and taking on more responsibility, which in turn, has begun to show on the scoresheet. Kessel should be a key part of Boston’s offense in years to come.

2. (3) Tuukka Rask, G Age: 19
Acquired: Trade (2006) Grade: 8.0C

With Hannu Toivonen in the midst of a difficult and rather disappointing season, some attention has turned towards the future, and the emergence of 19-year-old Finnish netminder Tuukka Rask. If all goes according to plan, Rask will be signed over the summer and should be in North America for the 2007-08 season. He’s currently playing at the elite level in Finland and has a resume that includes participation in numerous World Junior tournaments. After putting together an all-star performance in the 2006 WJC, Rask went into this year’s tournament under high expectations. Despite one shaky game, Rask performed well, but the Finns were not on the top of their game and finished sixth overall in the tournament. In short, Rask is considered one of the top European goaltending prospects from recent years. He’s got lightning-quick reflexes and seems to thrive in high pressure situations. With continued work, Rask stands an excellent chance at becoming a starting goaltender for the Bruins someday, but he’ll likely need at least one season, if not more, in the AHL before he reaches that milestone. He has tremendous potential, but until proven, Rask is little more than potential.

3. (5) Matt Lashoff, D Age:  20
Acquired: 1st Round, 22nd overall (2005) Grade: 7.5B

Lashoff went to training camp in September of 2006 ready to compete for a spot on Boston’s roster. As a rookie, he’s spent the majority of the season in Providence, where he’s the top scoring defenseman on the team, and he was the only Providence Bruins player chosen for the AHL All-Star game. Lashoff got his first taste of the NHL when he was recalled on Oct. 26 for a seven-game stretch. He had a strong debut for Boston, but his performance tapered off, and with that, his time on ice. He was sent back to Providence, where aside from another five-game recall in January, he has played the majority of his games this season. Lashoff is a smooth-skating defenseman with excellent puck skills, who plays a solid all-around game. If
he’s proven anything, it’s that he can keep up with the pace of the pro game, and he’s played well at both the AHL and the NHL level. Lashoff probably could be playing at the NHL level now, but Boston has been struggling to find consistency in their hunt for a playoff spot, and it appears he is more likely to spend the remainder of the season in Providence.  His upside is that of a top pairing defenseman in the NHL.

4. (6) Petr Kalus, RW Age: 19
Acquired: 2nd Round, 39th overall (2005) Grade: 7.5B

Petr Kalus has come a long way since he started playing in North America at the start of the 2005-06 season. He was one of the top rookies in the WHL, one of the last cuts from training camp in the fall of 2006, and has shown remarkable improvement since the beginning of the 2006-07 season in Providence. While he’s been close, the Bruins have not rushed the young forward into NHL action. That Kalus can be a potent offensive weapon was established during his play in the Czech Republic and his single season in the WHL, but he’s also demonstrated that he can bring a tough, physical edge to his game. Kalus had a slow start offensively to his rookie pro season with Providence, and he missed more than a month with a knee injury. Since returning to the ice, however, he’s more than tripled his offensive output from his first two months of the season.

Kalus’ future in the NHL looks brighter as he continues to progress, and it seems like it will only be a matter of time before he gets his opportunity in the NHL. If Kalus does not receive a call-up this season, he should be a top candidate for a spot coming out of camp in 2007.

5. (4) Mark Stuart, D Age: 22
Acquired: 1st round, 21st overall (2003) Grade: 7.0B

After finishing out his rookie season with a strong performance in Boston, it was widely believed that Mark Stuart would be staying at the NHL level for the 2006-07 season. His debut would be delayed, however, after undergoing knee surgery during the summer, and while Stuart remained with Boston prior to his return to the ice, he would begin his season in Providence. After a handful of games in the AHL, Stuart was recalled in late November, but he averaged just under ten minutes of ice time a game, and as a result, was sent back to the AHL. Stuart has been a powerful presence on Providence’s blue line and one of the team’s top defensemen. He plays a tough, in-your-face style game, and is at his best intimidating his opponents. He’s a player who could, or maybe even should be playing at the NHL level right now, but Boston has struggled, and the result has been a revolving door, with Stuart as just one of 15 different defensemen who have played a role on the back end this season alone. Not to be forgotten, however, is that Stuart is still very young, with only one full pro season under his belt. Perhaps if the Bruins were in a different situation, he would be in Boston, but for now, Stuart will continue his development at the AHL level.

6. (10) David Krejci, C Age: 20
Acquired: 2nd round, 63rd overall (2004) Grade: 7.5C

As a rookie, Krejci has made an immediate impact at the AHL level and he’s consistently been one of the top point producers for the P-Bruins in the 2006-07 season. He’s a talented playmaking center who is just as adept at getting the puck to his linemates as he is finding the back of the net. Krejci went on a 14-game point streak between Jan. 7 and Feb. 16, during which he scored a total 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists) and he’s currently fourth among all rookies in the AHL for scoring.  He earned a brief recall to Boston on Jan. 30 versus the Buffalo Sabres, but suffered a concussion after a hit that came on just his third shift of the game. Krejci would be recalled to Boston again, but averaged well under ten minutes of ice time a game. He has not yet had the opportunity to make a major impact in the NHL, but his performance at the AHL level paints a promising picture for his future.

7. (2) Hannu Toivonen, G Age: 22
Acquired: 1st round, 29th overall (2002) Grade: 8.0C

After a strong rookie performance early on, injury took Toivonen out for the remainder of the 2005-06 season, and it’s something that could well have played a role in his poor performance early in the 2006-07 season. The Bruins were banking on Toivonen’s readiness to be a starter this season, but he showed signs that he was struggling, and this, coupled with an inconsistent performance from the entire team, placed the young netminder in a tough situation. He clearly needed to be playing, something that the Bruins addressed by assigning him to Providence on numerous occasions. Unfortunately, Boston had also struggled off and on for much of the season and was in a situation where they were desperate for wins. As a result, when Toivonen was returned to Boston, he would spend more time on the bench than between the pipes. After appearing in just 16 games with the Boston Bruins, Toivonen was finally assigned to Providence for the remainder of the season.

A goaltender who still holds tremendous potential, Toivonen shouldn’t be taken for granted, nor should he be written off as a failure. He’s young, he’s talented, and the fact that goaltenders often take longer to develop is something Toivonen has on his side. The Bruins have stated publicly that they still have faith in his ability, and they may not yet be ready to give up on him. Still, his struggles have raised some question marks, and Toivonen has become a perfect example of what happens when a prospect does not immediately fulfill high expectations.

8. (8) Martins Karsums, RW Age: 21
Acquired: 2nd round, 64th overall (2004) Grade: 7.0B

It has taken Karsums a bit longer to acclimate to the pro game than originally was expected, but he has come a long way since the beginning of the season, and as a result, he’s been able to make more of an impact in the latter half of his rookie year. He missed some games with injury back in November of 2006, and went on to score 8 points in 11 games for the month of December. After a slow January, Karsums’ game seemed to open up in the month of February, where he had a total 11 points in 13 games. He’s currently one of three Providence Bruins players to rank among the top 20 rookie scorers of the AHL. Recently, he’s played on a line with rookies Kalus and Krejci.

The Latvian forward plays an intense game, and is both a gritty competitor and a scoring threat. Because of the style of game he plays, his durability is of some concern going into the future. Karsums has the potential to be a solid contributor on the second line in the NHL, but as long as he stays healthy, he should thrive in whatever role he is given.

9. (11) Jonathan Sigalet, D Age: 21
Acquired: 4th round, 100th overall (2005) Grade: 7.0B

Sigalet returned to the ice for his second pro season with added size and strength, which has not only helped him stand up to some of the bigger, stronger players in the league, but it has also helped him to play with more confidence. His point production per game has fallen this season, but his overall performance has improved, and the result is that he’s been much more consistent on a game to game basis. Sigalet earned his first recall to Boston for a game in January. Unfortunately he hit a small roadblock in February when he suffered a season-ending injury, but he’s a player who’s attracted plenty of attention in his short tenure within the Bruins system and has garnered favorable reviews.

10. (9) Yuri Alexandrov, D Age: 18
Acquired: 2nd round, 37th overall (2006) Grade: 7.5C

Alexandrov may be only 18 years of age, be he’s already in his second season with the Severstal Cherepovets in Russia’s top-tier hockey league. In 44 games for the 2006-07 season, he’s totaled two points, 38 penalty minutes and +3. At 6’1 175 lbs, he could stand to add some bulk and continue working on his strength, but despite that, the young stay at home defenseman has an aggressive style and won’t shy away from contact. He’s an excellent skater who thinks the game well, and he’s an asset on the power play. One of his greatest qualities is his attitude, and in turn, his outstanding leadership abilities. Alexandrov also participated in the 2007 World Juniors with Team Russia. He’s another player who could come over from Europe as early as next season.

11. (16) Vladimir Sobotka, C Age: 19
Acquired: 4th round, 106th overall (2005) Grade: 7.5C

The 19-year-old played his second season at the elite level in the Czech Republic with HC Slavia Praha. Sobotka had his season cut short with injury after playing a total of 33 games, during which he totaled 13 points. For the 2007 WJCs, he was among the top performers on his team, and he led Team Czech Republic with a total eight points in six games. Sobotka is a skilled, high-energy forward who plays an abrasive, two-way game. While he has demonstrated considerable skill and hockey sense, he will need continued work on his finishing skills if he’s to become a regular contributor on offense. He’s also on the small side, which may or may not be a factor in his future as a pro. Sobotka should be a good fit for American style hockey, and in all likelihood, he will get his first shot in America for the 2007-08 season.

12. (N/R) Milan Lucic, LW Age: 18
Acquired: 2nd round, 50th overall (2006) Grade: 7.0C

Lucic makes his debut in the Bruins’ top 20 for the first time since he was drafted in 2006. Lucic is a tough power forward, a player who finishes his checks and shows no hesitation in sticking up for his teammates. His first season with the Vancouver Giants (WHL) was spent on the team’s checking line, where his primary responsibility was to intimidate and throw opponents off their game. Lucic’s role has shifted in the 2006-07 season, however, and he’s become one of the team’s top scorers. In fact, he has led the Vancouver Giants in scoring for the majority of the season, and more than tripled his offensive output of 19 points in 62 games from the 2005-06 season. Lucic has shown significant improvement since the start of his junior career and he’s continually one of the hardest-working players on the ice. It’s tough to say how much offense he will contribute at the pro level, but if this season is an indication of anything, it’s that the potential is there.

13. (13) Ben Walter, C Age: 22
Acquired: 5th round, 160th overall (2004) Grade: 6.5B

The former UMass-Lowell standout has shown vast improvement during his second professional season, particularly in his pursuit of the puck and one-on-one battles along the boards. Walter has consistently been one of the top scorers for the Providence Bruins, and he’s led the team in plus/minus for the majority of the season. He has surpassed his rookie total of 40 points in 62 games, and while he is not a flashy player, he’s a guy who gets the job done and often comes through in key situations. Walter is not likely to be a prolific scorer at the NHL level, but his value lies in his ability to read plays, to make plays, and to get the puck to his teammates. When he’s on the ice, good things seem to happen for his team.

14. (17) Matt Hunwick, D Age: 21
Acquired: 7th round, 224th overall (2004) Grade: 7.0C

Matt Hunwick is rounding out his final year at the University of Michigan,
where he is team captain. Regularly matched against the opposing team’s top lines, Hunwick has been one of Michigan’s best and most reliable defensemen. He’s a smart player and adept at making things difficult for his opponents, whether he is knocking a player off the puck or disrupting passing lanes. Hunwick also has exceptional skating ability and has shown a reasonable amount of offensive capability since he began his college career. He’s not a real big player, but his value as a quick, puck-carrying defenseman and his ability to quarterback the power play, could make him an attractive option. Hunwick should get an opportunity to play in Providence following the close of Michigan’s season, and the Bruins will need to sign him over the summer if they are to keep him in the fold.

15. (15) Brad Marchand, C Age: 18
Acquired: 3rd round, 71st overall (2006) Grade: 7.0C

In his third season playing in the QMJHL and his first with the Val d’Or Foreurs, Marchand has once again increased his offensive output, and has been among the top scorers on his team for much of the season. In only 52 games, he put up 77 points, surpassing last season’s total of 66 points in 68 games. For the first time in his career, Marchand represented his country as a member of gold medal winning Team Canada in the 2007 WJC. He’s a player who likes to be actively involved in his team’s offense, whether he is creating scoring chances for teammates or shooting on net. He is often relentless in his pursuit of the puck, and can hold his own, whether it is along the boards or in front of the net. At 5’10 188 lbs, he’s still on the small side, but he is strong on his skates and can be difficult to knock off the puck.

16. (N/R) Pascal Pelletier, C Age: 23
Acquired: Free Agent (2005) Grade: 6.5C

Pelletier earned a place in the Bruins organization with his strong Providence debut during the 2005-06 season. During that time he totaled 46 points in 53 games, and averaged a point a game in Providence’s brief postseason run. He’s been a key contributor in Providence for the 2006-07 season, and while his point production per game has fallen slightly, he is always one of the hardest-working players on the ice. Pelletier is a high-energy player, an agitator who will not only get under the skin of his opponents but if left unchecked is always a danger to create scoring opportunities. He’s been a constant on the power play, where he’s scored more than half of his goals, and has regularly played on the team’s top scoring lines. Pelletier brings a combination of grit and skill to the lineup and could get his shot in the NHL as early as next season.

17. (N/R) TJ Trevelyan, LW Age: 23
Acquired: Free agent (2006) Grade: 7.0D

Trevelyan has been a pleasant surprise on the P-Bruins offense since he was recalled from Long Beach back in November. A small but slippery forward, he has explosive speed and good maneuverability in traffic. Trevelyan is an opportunistic scorer and a tough competitor who has good vision and generally makes smart decisions with the puck. After a slow start to the season, he was sent to Long Beach (ECHL), where he was the top scorer on the team. He tends to take many shots on net and has averaged nearly a point a game since he’s been in Providence, where he will remain for the rest of the season. A forward with tremendous skill, Trevelyan looks to be another strong free-agent pick-up for the Bruins.

18. (14) Jordan Sigalet, G Age: 26
Acquired: 7th round, 209th overall (2001) Grade: 6.5C

Sigalet is in the final year of his contract with the Bruins, and will need to secure his spot within the organization among some tough competition between the pipes. The good news is that he’s had a strong year for Providence, one that has improved as the season’s progressed. Early on, Sigalet had some minor injury trouble, which, coupled with Toivonen’s brief assignment to the club, limited his playing time, and as a result, he got off to a slow start. Sigalet has a winning record, including two shutouts on the season, and he’s among the top ten in the league with goals against. He gives his team the opportunity to win every time he’s in the net, and despite the hype surrounding some of Boston’s high profile goaltending prospects, Sigalet is still a viable option. He will share net duty with Toivonen for the remainder of the season in Providence.

19. (N/R) Kevin Regan, G Age: 22
Acquired: 9th round, 277 overall (2003) Grade: 6.5C

For the first time in his college career, 22-year-old Regan has been expected to make the majority of starts, and it’s a responsibility he has handled with success. He’s had the benefit of playing for an excellent hockey program at UNH, on a team that is regularly among the top teams in the division, but he’s also a player who has been a winner in every level he’s played. Regan is an athletic 6’2 190 lbs with good reflexes who gives his team the chance to win every game. He has put together another strong season at the University of New Hampshire, perhaps one of the best in his college career, and he’s already reached a career high with wins. With numerous Hockey East honors, and recognition as one of the top goaltenders in the division, Regan’s future continues to brighten with each season.

20. (N/R) Mikko Lehtonen, RW Age: 19
Acquired: 83rd overall (2005) Grade: 7.0D

The tall, lanky forward has plenty of skill, but hasn’t yet broken away from the pack in Finland’s elite league. He’s put up decent but unremarkable numbers for the Espoo Blues this season, with a total 15 points in 39 games, and is the picture of a prospect who is making steady progress, but is not quite there yet. Most promising as of late was his performance at the 2007 WJC. He was one of three players to score 10 points, the best in the tournament, and was named best player for his team in two different games. At 6’4 and just over 200 lbs, he’s not only a good-sized player, but his greatest assets are his speed and skating ability. He’s got plenty of skill, something he’s shown in flashes, but he’s still more potential than anything, and will be an interesting player to watch, particularly if his development continues to follow its upward curve.

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