Who would have thought the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League would go from last place in 1997-1998, to being the 1998-1999 AHL Calder Cup champions. Against all odds the Bruins came together and were the winningest team this season breaking benchmark records in the process. With a championship under their belts, the players of the Providence Bruins enter this seasons training camp with more confidence in their abilities than ever before. The Bruins brass are confident in their youth and recently released veterans Ken Baumgartner and Dave Ellett to make room for the talented youngsters.
In the festive spirit of Ray Bourque’s 20th anniversary of being drafted, Defenseman Nick Boynton, was selected by the Boston Bruins with their first pick, 21st overall, from the Ottawa 67s of the Ontario Hockey League. The former CHL +/- Award winner, has exceptional vision and intelligence with and without the puck, and had the 2nd hardest shot among defensemen at the 1997 prospects skills competition (89.2 mph). The 6’2″, 210 lb. native of Etobicoke, Ontario finished last season with 11 goals and 48 assists for 59 points with 83 pim in 51 games. Boynton captained his Ottawa team to the Canadian Major Junior Hockey championship, the Memorial Cup, and was named the MVP in that tournament!
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In a draft day filled with trades and intrigue, the Boston Bruins stayed out of the dealing fray and waited their turn at the 21st position to select defenseman Nick Boynton, a player everyone in Boston hopes can help the Bruins’ fortunes sooner than anticipated. As the host city of the 1999 Draft, Boston was well-represented by its fans who voiced their pleasure when Boynton’s name was called. When future Hall of Fame defenseman Raymond Bourque, who 20 years ago was the Bruins’ top draft pick, made the announcement, draft day ’99 was that much more special for the legions of Bruins supporters in attendance. By the time the smoke cleared at the Fleetcenter, and the final name was called, Boston had taken 3 key members of the CHL’s top team, the Ottawa 67s. With 3 defensemen, several forwards and 2 goaltenders, Mike O’Connell and Harry Sinden closed the book on what appears to be a successful draft.
With less than a week before the Boston Bruins host the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, the Bruins announced the free agent signing of Jeff Zehr. Drafted 31st overall by the Islanders in ’97, Zehr never came to terms with New York and now, at age 20, finds himself competing for a spot on the Boston Bruins roster. “I’m not going to Boston thinking that I’ll play a year in the minors,” Zehr told reporters of the Boston Globe following his signing. “I’m thinking I’ll make the club. I play a feisty game. I like to be involved out there, in all key situations.”
This future power forward, who has been compared to Brendan Shanahan, notched 24 goals in 57 games last year and knows what is expected of him. “The Bruins are keying on me, telling me I’ll get a chance – and now it’s up to me to make the most of it.” Voted by OHL coaches as the West Division’s most improved player for 1996-1997, Zehr should have no problems adjusting to the pro game assuming he can develop his game at the same pace.
Just when you thought it was safe to put away your hockey sweater for the summer, I am back with a quick down-and-dirty on the latest developments in the Boston Bruins camp since the season ended over a month ago. With the draft quickly approaching, we will take one final look at the Bruins’ biggest needs and who they may select to fulfill those requirements. Many thanks to those who responded to my earlier HF Draft Preview with good feedback that has allowed for one final tweak before the main event in Boston on Saturday.
Jeff Zehr. The big news in Boston last week was the signing of 1997 Islanders 2nd- round draft pick Zehr, who comes to the Bruins after a solid OHL career. He has shown promise as a power forward and seems to have every inclination of earning a place on Boston’s roster this year. He’ll have his work cut out for him, but this is an excellent move by management after Zehr could not come to terms in New York.
Eric Van Acker. Van Acker is a big(6’5, 220 pound) blueliner out of Baie-Comeau of the Quebec League and was Boston’s 11th choice, 218th overall in 1997. He’s a meat-and-potatoes stay- at-home defender who does not generate much offense, but could develop into a solid pro with the right seasoning.
Jim Baxter. The Oshawa Generals’ defenseman had a great year, leading team defensemen in scoring and establishing himself as a real power play point-producer. Boston’s 9th choice(180) in 1997 couldn’t agree on a deal with Boston and re-enters the draft.
Born: August 27, 1974
Hometown: Shelburne, Ontario
Position: Right Wing
Weight: 210 lbs
If you could quantify a hockey player’s competetive drive in penalty minutes alone, the Providence Bruins’ Aaron Downey would be the American Hockey League’s undisputed leader. Downey, a prospect in the Boston Organization, came to Providence 2 years ago on a try-out agreement after spending 1995-97 in the East Coast Hockey League. In just 2 seasons with Providence, Downey has become something of a legend and is easily one of the most popular players on the Baby Bruins despite his modest point production. Why is this, you say? Well, a quick look at Aaron Downey in action will provide you with an answer quickly enough, as he throws his body around the ice at the opposition with reckless abandon and is able to ignite teammates and fans alike with his chippy, inspired play. Simply put, don’t ever use the words “quit” and “Aaron Downey” in the same sentence, lest you might find yourself on the ice dazed and confused, wondering what zip code you happen to be in.