Providence Bruins 2007-08 season preview

By Janine Pilkington

In a division that was competitive right to the end, the Providence Bruins closed out the 2006-07 regular season in third place with a 44-30-2-4 record. Though there will be a few significant roster changes for this season, the potential is there to finish at or near the top of the division, on a team that will once again be loaded with prospect talent.

“The makeup of our team will be a little different — it looks like we’re going to be a little bit bigger, a little more physical,” said Providence Bruins head coach Scott Gordon. “We probably had to try to manufacture some of that last year, whereas this year, now we’ve got some guys where it looks like an integral part of their game.”

The schedule starts off slow for Providence, who will play a total of 10 games from the start of their season on Oct. 6 to their home opener on Nov. 14.

“We have to have the mindset that we’re not on the road and try to come out of that 10-game stretch with a better than .500 record — if we can do that, that will really set the tone for the rest of the season for us.”


Goaltending

The biggest change in the net for Providence will be the addition of Tuukka Rask, who, in his second year as part of the Bruins organization, begins his rookie pro season in North America. Rask spent the 2006-07 season as starter for Ilves in Finland’s elite league, and also brings with him a wealth of international tournament experience. The talent and the pedigree are certainly there, but the next test will be maintaining that level of play in the AHL.

“Tuukka, from what I’ve seen so far, he’s been fine,” said the P-Bruins coach. “Usually the things you might concern yourself with European goalies is they’re either too aggressive or too passive, and he’s been just right. Everything else for him, his biggest adjustment will be handling the load for an 80-game season, and that’s something you won’t know until the season is over.”

The most likely candidate to share net duty would be Jordan Sigalet, who is entering his third professional season. Despite having to take on a lesser role while the Bruins worked with Hannu Toivonen during the 2006-07 season, Sigalet put together a strong performance that included three shutouts and a 15-5-2 record. Mike Brown, also entering his third professional season, has spent the majority of his pro career in the ECHL and is a possibility to make the jump to the AHL. Brown was in the net for the struggling Long Beach Ice Dogs during the 2006-07 season, and if he doesn’t make the squad in Providence this season, he will likely be assigned to the Bruins’ new ECHL affiliate, the Johnstown Chiefs.

Defense

Between returning players and new additions to the organization, Providence will have plenty of competition among defensemen. Matt Lashoff survived the first few rounds of cuts in Boston before being assigned to Providence, where he enters his second professional season. Lashoff was the P-Bruins top scoring defenseman as a rookie and needs a little more work before he sees full-time action in the NHL.

“In my mind, where I thought he was, I said it would be great for him if he was able to come back down here and play anywhere from 20-40 games and work on, not just the offensive part, but also the defensive part,” explained Coach Gordon. “He was more than reliable defensively, but we want him to take that next step, where not only is he the best offensive defenseman in the league, but he makes a step towards being the best defensive defenseman.”

Jonathan Sigalet will look to regain lost ground after having his second pro season cut short by a shoulder injury that required surgery. Sigalet appeared in 50 games during the 2006-07 season, having bulked up over the summer and showing increased confidence on the ice. He will need to work hard to get back to that point, but it is something that should happen as the season progresses.

“Siggy was unfortunate, it’s almost like it knocked him back as far as the middle of his first year,” said Gordon. “He’s got to get all that strength back, because he was limited in how much he could work out. From a mental standpoint things will come easier for him, but physically, it’s probably going to take him a while to get back to where he was at the start of the second year.”

Rookie Adam McQuaid is a recent acquisition by the Bruins, and another player fighting for a spot on Providence’s roster. McQuaid was originally drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets and spent the 2006-07 season on the Sudbury Wolves (OHL) as a top pairing defenseman. Coach Gordon described McQuaid as a raw talent with a lot of potential, who will probably need some time to develop into a successful pro.

“He’s probably one of the quieter guys with what the expectations are, when I look at him, he hasn’t even started to develop yet physically, so that will slow him down a little bit this year,” he explained. “By the time next year rolls around, I’m sure he’s going to be a lot stronger and bigger and things will come easier than they will this year.”

As of Sept. 28, Matt Hunwick was still enjoying an extended look in Boston, but he is another player who could be slated to start off the season in Providence. He’s been one of the surprises in training camp this season and has attracted a fair amount of attention since his arrival. Hunwick, a rookie this season, concluded a strong four-year college career at the University of Michigan, where he was team captain during the 2006-07 season and CCHA defensive defenseman of the year.

Also in the mix are recent acquisitions Brett Skinner and Nathan Saunders, who arrived from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Mark Mowers. Both played the 2006-07 season in both the AHL and the ECHL.

Forwards

It looks like the Providence Bruins will be without their top two scorers from the 2006-07 season. David Krejci is a good bet to stick in Boston while Ben Walter was sent to the Islanders in exchange for Petteri Nokelainen. Still, this team has the talent to make up for it, provided their returning players step up and the rookies find a way to contribute.

This will be the first year in North America for rookie Vladimir Sobotka, who has already left quite an impression since arriving at camp this season. The Bruins’ 2005 draft pick (4th round, 106th overall) played the last two seasons in the Czech Extraliga, and had a particularly strong performance at the 2007 World Juniors. Sobotka is a skilled forward with plenty of fire to his game, and his biggest hurdle this season will be adjusting to the cultural differences and learning more English.

“He’s a player I really think our fans are going to love. He just goes out and does everything the right way, and when he’s off, it’s not because it’s intentional, it’s because he’s getting acclimated to our language and what our expectations are. I’m excited to watch him play this year, because he’s got a lot of tools.”

TJ Trevelyan played his way onto the roster last year after starting out the season in the ECHL. He became an integral part of Providence’s attack, while posting almost a point per game. Trevelyan is small, but he’s a tough competitor with a scoring touch and should be a big point producer this year.

“He’s a guy that every game he’s going to get his five or six chances and they’re all going to be quality chances,” said Gordon. “He knows how to get to those areas and that will never change for him. As long as he stays focused, and continues to work like he has, the sky’s the limit for him.”

In the midst of a strong training camp, Byron Bitz is looking like a good bet to play his rookie season in Providence. He served as captain in his senior year at Cornell University, and signed his first contract with the Bruins just prior to their prospect development camp over the summer.

“He’s another big body guy, kind of reminds me a little bit of Lee Goren in that he’s got that same kind of size, has good hands, and so far he’s shown a willingness top drop the gloves, which that’s a very unique blend of hockey player. I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen so far.”  

Martins Karsums will try to regain lost ground from games missed in his rookie season, and provided he stays healthy, should play a more pronounced role in Providence’s offense. Karsums is a skilled forward who likes to throw his weight around, and the biggest thing for him, according to the P Bruins coach, is getting that full season of experience.

“You look at David Krejci, and one of the things that allowed him to make the progress he was able to make is, I think when January hit, that’s when his game went up — he got through all the growing pains. With Marty, whenever he’d start to get on a roll, there’d be an injury and he’d regress.”

Both Wacey Rabbit and Chris Collins are players who will be looking to make the jump to full-time duty in the AHL. Rabbit started off the 2006-07 season in Providence, but didn’t see a lot of ice time, so he made the decision to return to the WHL for his last year of eligibility in juniors. He contributed to a strong team in Vancouver that went on to win the Memorial Cup and has worked hard to prepare for the upcoming season. Rabbit is a high-energy player who is comfortable playing in different situations, and can play all three forward positions — something that could work to his advantage as he tries to break into the roster.

Collins went back and forth between Providence and Long Beach (ECHL) last season, and like Rabbit, struggled to find ice time in the AHL.  The Boston College grad is another high-energy player, who is fiercely competitive and possesses good overall vision on the ice. He has also put himself in a better position to make the team in Providence this year.

“They’ve definitely gone into camp with a different approach, with a different mindset, knowing what they need to do — they’re better for the experience of last year and realizing that a lot of it fell onto them as far as their lack of success as pros,” explained Coach Gordon. “It’s one thing to be ready physically, but you also at the end of the day have to be able to give results — I think they’ve done everything they need to do to get themselves where they need to be, but now it’s just a question of on-ice production.”

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