Bruins Top 20 Prospects, Spring 2008

By Janine Pilkington

Top 20 at a glance

1. Tuukka Rask, G
2. David Krejci, C
3. Vladimir Sobotka, C
4. Matt Lashoff, D    
5. Zach Hamill, C
6. Carl Soderberg, C
7. Adam McQuaid, D
8. Matt Hunwick, D
9. Brad Marchand, C
10. Martins Karsums, RW
11. Yuri Alexandrov, D
12. Tommy Cross, D
13. Jonathan Sigalet, D
14. Kevin Regan, G
15. Mikko Lehtonen, RW
16. TJ Trevelyan, LW
17. Andrew Bodnarchuk, D
18. Brock Bradford, C
19. Nate Thompson, C
20. Jordan Knackstedt, RW

1. (1) Tuukka Rask, 8.0B
Acquired via trade (2006)

Tuukka Rask made his highly anticipated North American debut in the fall of 2007, and aside from a brief romp in the NHL, the majority of his ice time has been with the Providence Bruins (AHL). While those expecting an instant superstar may be disappointed, Rask has had little trouble acclimating to his new surroundings and his performance so far has been encouraging.

As the last man between the puck and the back of the net for a team that has excelled in minimizing scoring chances, we haven’t yet seen the full range of what he can do. The good news is that when he has been tested, Rask has come through and been able to make timely saves. Rask’s quick movement and reflexes, as well as his ability to stay calm and focused throughout the game, point to a goaltender of exceptional ability that, with continued work, should become an integral part of Boston’s future. 

2. (2) David Krejci, 8.0B
2nd round, 63rd overall (2004)

Krejci got off to a slow start in Boston after making the team out of training camp, and it would take a brief return to the AHL to set him back on track. Since returning to Boston, he’s made steady progress, and has proven that he is where he belongs. He has earned the respect of his teammates and coaches, and when veteran forward Marc Savard went down with injury, it was Krejci who was called upon to center the team’s top line. Since taking on that responsibility, his game has exploded.

A gifted playmaker, Krejci’s vision, sense of timing and ability to make quick, accurate passes to his teammates are among his greatest strengths. Additionally, he can skate, he’s solid in the face-off circle, and while not an overly physical player, he will give or take a hit when necessary. Krejci is still at the beginning of his pro career, but he is already playing at a high level. If he continues to build upon his rookie season, he will become one of the premier playmaking centers in the league.

3. (7) Vladimir Sobotka, 7.0B
4th round, 106th overall (2006)

Sobotka was expected to spend the majority of his rookie season playing with the Providence Bruins, however, his first call to the NHL came early, and in Boston he has remained. The small, feisty Czech forward came to North America knowing little English, but what he did bring was tremendous hockey IQ and the ability to adapt quickly. He is a player who truly plays much bigger than his size, demonstrating both his willingness to play the body and ability to protect the puck.

Mostly relegated to fourth line duty in Boston, Sobotka has played limited minutes and has not yet made a significant impact on the scoresheet. He does, however, own considerable skill, and has proven he is well suited to North American hockey. While in Providence, he averaged more than a point per game; in Boston, he has shown that he won’t back down and can keep up with the best of them. Still a way from reaching his full potential in the NHL, Sobotka should make more of an impact offensively in years to come. 

4. (3) Matt Lashoff, 7.5B
1st round, 22nd overall (2005)

Currently in just his second professional season, Matt Lashoff has not only evolved into one of the top defensemen in the AHL, but he has already received numerous calls to the NHL. As is to be expected with any young player, his play in Boston has not yet been consistent, and at times his inexperience apparent. However he has shown steady improvement and a full time NHL job is not far away.

 A skilled puck moving defensemen, Lashoff has the ability to contribute offensively both even strength and on the powerplay, while keeping his defensive responsibilities in check. He makes good decisions and is able to get up ice quickly. He is the type of player who will make a positive contribution no matter what role he plays on the team, and should have a long NHL career ahead of him. Lashoff has the tools to become a top pairing defenseman in the NHL, and with some work, he should reach that potential.

5. (4) Zach Hamill, 7.5C
1st round, 8th overall (2007)

Under a new coaching staff in Everett, Hamill got off to a slow start offensively in the 2007-08 season. While he still averaged more than a point per game (75 total points in 67 games), the former WHL scoring leader and the Bruins’ top draft pick in 2007 fell short of his 2006-07 totals. Unfortunately, those accomplishments made during his draft year bring with them the burden of high expectations, resulting in a glass half full/ half empty scenario. Those expecting a blockbuster follow up season will be disappointed, but the fact remains, Hamill is a gifted offensive player who played a big role in his team’s attack. He will need continued work if he is to thrive in pro hockey, but Hamill is the type of player who has all the intangibles- work ethic, attitude and heart- to put it all together.

6. (5) Carl Söderberg, 7.5C
Acquired via trade (2007)

Carl Söderberg became part of the Bruins organization in the 2007 trade that sent Hannu Toivonen to the St Louis Blues. He missed a significant amount of playing time from an eye injury sustained last season, however Söderberg bounced back to record more than a point per game with Malmö for 2007-08. The Swede forward has the size and speed to get around opponents. He has an accurate shot and excels in his puckhandling abilities. Söderberg has the potential to be a dynamic offensive threat in the NHL, both in his playmaking and scoring ability. Now that he has recovered from his injury and has regained his form, Söderberg should be ready to bring those skills to North America.

7. (9) Adam McQuaid, 7.0B
Acquired via trade (2007)

Originally drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2005, McQuaid was an interesting acquisition for the Bruins- a raw talent coming out of the Ontario Hockey League with loads of potential. He’s got a big frame, and he fits the bill as the prototypical stay at home defensemen, who plays a simple, yet effective style game. McQuaid has proven to be a hard worker and he’s been a strong presence on Providence’s blueline. He was voted the team’s Man of the Year, an award that is given to one player from each AHL team for their contributions to the community. It is a combination of his work on and off the ice that have made him a legitimate NHL prospect, and McQuaid is giving himself every opportunity to succeed.

8. (11) Matt Hunwick, 7.0B
7th round, 224th overall (2004)

After an impressive college career with the University of Michigan, it should come as no surprise that Hunwick would have a strong professional debut. During training camp, he made quite an impression and earned an extended look before being assigned to Providence. Hunwick also played a few games in Boston during the regular season. A smart defenseman with exceptional skating ability, Hunwick’s style of play is well suited to today’s game. A late round pick that was at one time considered a longshot, he has worked hard and proven that he is a viable candidate to play in the NHL

9. (15) Brad Marchand, 7.0C
3rd round, 71st overall (2006)

After beginning the season with Val d’Or, Marchand was traded to Halifax midseason, where he will look to wrap up his junior career with a championship. Always a danger in the offensive zone, he has the speed to break away from the opposition and the ability to maneuver his way through traffic while maintaining control of the puck. He drives hard to the net and has a quick, accurate shot. Marchand is the type of player who will shoot often, and can generate quality scoring opportunities even from difficult angles. For the second straight year Brad Marchand was part of Team Canada’s gold medal run in the WJC, and with a contract from the Bruins in hand, it is only a matter of time before he tests his skills as a pro.

10. (12) Martins Karsums, 6.5C
2nd round, 64th overall (2004)

As a rookie last season, the biggest obstacle for Karsums was injury, which kept him from the lineup a significant number of games. Now in his second pro season, the tables have turned completely. Karsums has played in more games than anyone else on the Providence Bruins and it has been just the jump he needed to become a key contributor on offense. Second only to Pascal Pelletier in scoring, he has been consistent and improved over the course of the season. Karsums mixes an intense, gritty style of play with considerable skill. There are so many dimensions to his game that he could thrive in any role in most any role in the NHL. Staying healthy will be important as he continues to develop into an NHL caliber player, however Karsums appears to be well on his way.

11. (16) Yuri Alexandrov, 7.0C
2nd round, 37th overall (2006)

Alexandrov is playing his third season in the Russian Super League, which, in itself is an impressive accomplishment for a defenseman who has yet to reach his 20’s. Alexandrov also has considerable experience with international competition, including a recent trip to the World Junior Competition, where Russia won the bronze medal.

With a combination of size, mobility and hockey sense, there is much to like about Alexandrov. He moves the puck well and has considerable passing and shooting skills. He has demonstrated some willingness to use the body, however he is still very underdeveloped physically, and will need to bulk up considerably to become more effective in that area. If all goes as planned, the Bruins will have Alexandrov under contract in the near future and he could make his North American debut as early as next season.  

12. (13) Tommy Cross, 7.0C
2nd round, 35th overall (2007)

Recovered from his knee injury and back on the ice for his senior year at Westminster High, Tommy Cross served as one of his team’s captains before moving on to the Ohio Junior Blue Jackets (USHL) at the close of the season. While he is still very young, Cross is a superb athlete who exemplifies many of the qualities of a future pro hockey player. He’s a big body, able to effectively use his size and strength to shut down opponents, but he’s also a strong skater with good mobility. Cross owns considerable hockey sense and is very aware of his defensive responsibilities with the skill to contribute some offense. He will have every opportunity to excel in a strong hockey program with Boston College, and Cross appears to have both the ability and the work ethic to succeed at that level and beyond.  

13. (8) Jonathan Sigalet, 6.5C
4th round, 100th overall (2005)

Sigalet missed a significant portion of his second pro season with injury which set him back a couple steps developmentally, however it is hard to deny talent, ability, or potential, and he has all of those. While he still needs to rebuild some of the bulk lost while recovering from injury, Sigalet has once again become a reliable defenseman for Providence. An exceptional skater and intelligent player, he is able to get the puck up ice quickly. He also has an accurate shot, and as his game improved over the course of the season, he’s been able to contribute more offensively. Sigalet will need continued work, but if he continues to build upon what he has already accomplished, he has the ability to be an effective offensive defenseman at the next level.

14. (18) Kevin Regan, 6.5C
9th round, 277th overall (2003)

Regan capped off an impressive college career at the University of New Hampshire with another outstanding season, one that left his name all over the school’s record books. The personal awards continue to pile up, including the Walter Brown Award and Hockey East player of the year, as well as becoming one of the top ten finalists for the Hobey Baker Award. Both intelligent and an outstanding athlete, Regan also has a tremendous work ethic. He’s an athletic goaltender, technically sound, and the type of player who inspires confidence from the team in front of him. Regan has more than proven himself at the college level and should be able to bring that level of competition to the pros. The Bruins have until mid-August to sign him, or he will become a free agent.

15. (19) Mikko Lehtonen, 6.5C
3rd round, 83rd overall (2005)

Lehtonen has his first contract in hand with the Bruins, and may finally suit up in North America next season. The tall, lanky forward has demonstrated that he is skilled, including an outstanding performance at the 2007 WJC. His numbers have not necessarily been eye-catching in Finland’s elite league, however his ice time has been limited in the past, and he certainly has the tools to contribute more on offense. Lehtonen did put up better numbers for the 2007-08 season, while averaging close to 14 minutes per game for a strong Blues team. Lehtonen demonstrates good puckhandling skills, and he’s a quick skater who can be hard to stop once he gets going. He’s got a big frame that he’s still growing into, and it is that, along with his natural ability that make him an attractive prospect.

16. (14) TJ Trevelyan, 6.5C
Signed as a free agent (2006)

Trevelyan has had some ups and downs in his second pro season, and the result is that he hasn’t put up points at the same rate as a rookie. Still, he’s a player that averages at least three shots on net per game, often more, and as many of those are quality shots, he is always a legitimate scoring threat. An opportunistic goal scorer, Trevelyan also has great on ice vision, and is willing to get involved physically. He needs to do more to separate himself from a system full of talented forwards, but a natural goal scorer can be tough to find, and he could be an asset if he puts it all together.

17. (NR) Andrew Bodnarchuk, 6.5C
5th round, 128th overall (2006)

Considered by many to be one of the top defensemen in the QMJHL, Bodnarchuk served as captain of his team in Halifax, where he led all defensemen in scoring. Bodnarchuk is a quick, puck-moving defenseman who has the speed to get up in the rush and in turn create some offense. While his strengths may be on offense, his coaches have worked with him to make a bigger commitment to his defensive responsibility and to simplify his game this season. He is on the small side, which at times creates difficulty in his ability to stop opposing forwards, and therefore Bodnarchuk needs to rely on his speed and his stickwork to disrupt plays. Bodnarchuk has been signed by the Bruins, and should begin his pro career next season.

18. (NR) Brock Bradford, 6.5C
7th round, 217th overall (2005)

Bradford broke his arm early in the season and missed the majority of games for the 2007-08 campaign. He was coming off a spectacular sophomore season for Boston College where he had established himself as a key player in the Eagles’ attack, and while he may not have been able to play much this season, he remained an active presence in the lockerroom. Bradford has been overlooked in the past as a viable NHL prospect, but he has demonstrated steady improvement, and will be a player to keep an eye on as he wraps up his college career next season. First and foremost, he has phenomenal hockey IQ, which, coupled with considerable skill and skating ability, are signs that he has more potential than he’s given credit for. He is not a sure bet by any stretch, but he is an example of a player who could be a pleasant surprise down the line.   

19. (20) Nate Thompson, 5.5B
8th round, 247th overall (2003)

In his third pro season, Nate Thompson served as captain of the 2007-08 Providence Bruins. Over the course of his pro career he has become a reliable performer who will bring a full effort to every shift. Thompson has had a career season statistically as well, more than doubling his goal scoring from the previous season. He is a high energy forward, one of the better skaters in the organization, and he isn’t afraid to mix it up when necessary. His role in the NHL will likely be as an energy guy who chips in the occasional point, but he is one of those players who does all of the little things that help win games.

20. (NR) Jordan Knackstedt, 6.5C
7th round, 189th overall (2007)

Could the Bruins have found another strong NHL prospect in the later rounds of the draft? It may be too early to tell, but Knackstedt, who has steadily improved since his first WHL season in 2004-05 is another player who could surprise down the road. Knackstedt is coming off a career season offensively, where he led his team in scoring, and was among the top ten in the entire league. He’s got a big frame, and brings a nice mix of grit, character and skill to the table. There is plenty of room for improvement if he’s to stand out in the pro ranks, but could be on the rise if he can push himself that extra step.