Bruins Top 20 Prospects, Fall 2008

By Janine Pilkington

Top 20 at a glance

1. Tuukka Rask, G
2. David Krejci, C
3. Joe Colborne, C
4. Blake Wheeler, RW
5. Matt Lashoff, D
6. Zach Hamill, C
7. Carl Soderberg, C
8. Vladimir Sobotka, C
9. Brad Marchand, C
10. Kevin Regan, G
11. Adam McQuaid, D
12. Matt Hunwick, D
13. Andrew Bodnarchuk, D
14. Yuri Alexandrov, D
15. Tommy Cross, D
16. Martins Karsums, RW
17. Maxime Sauve, C
18. Jordan Knackstedt, RW
19. Michael Hutchinson, G 
20. Mikko Lehtonen, RW

1. (1) Tuukka Rask, G 8.0B

Exceptional goaltenders are tough to find, and it is for that reason that Rask remains at the No. 1 spot on the Bruins top 20 list. He spent his first North American season with the Providence Bruins in 2007-08 where he backstopped a team that, for the most part, kept the pressure off his shoulders. That, coupled with the adjustment to North American culture, resulted in a less than stellar season statistically, however stats only tell part of the story. Rask is quick, and so precise in his movement that he makes getting into the right position look easy. Additionally, he’s got good hockey sense and the work ethic necessary to push himself to the next level. Rask will play in the NHL, but when he lands a full-time job may be another story. He is expected to play another season in the AHL—if he impresses, Boston may be calling sooner rather than later.

2. (2) David Krejci, C 8.0B

Krejci has already made his way to a full-time job in Boston, so it’s no longer a question as to whether or not he can play at that level. The biggest thing for him at this point is to continue his growth as an NHL player. A gifted playmaker, Krejci may well be on par with some of the better centers in the league, however he’ll still need considerable work to reach that potential.  His ability to be such a good playmaker is due in part to terrific vision and hockey sense — he’s one of those players who always seems to be able to find the right spot at the right time. Krejci is willing to pay the price to make a play, and while he’s not overly physical, he will hit. His rookie NHL season started off slow, but it was a late season surge of confidence gave a glimpse of the type of player he can be. 

3.  (NR) Joe Colborne, C 8.5D

Colborne was the Bruins’ top pick in the 2008 entry draft, a center from the Camrose Kodiaks and AJHL playoff MVP. A player with tremendous size, he has the potential to be a monster forward in the NHL. He’s got excellent vision and playmaking skills, and while he is more often a pass-first player, he does have a strong, accurate shot. His physical game has come into question — he may never be a bruising, punishing power forward, but his ability to use his size to his advantage should improve as he gets stronger. As he will be attending college, the Bruins will have the luxury of bringing him along slowly, particularly so that he is able to bulk up and get stronger. He is easily a potential top line forward in the NHL, however, he will need a tremendous amount of work if he’s to reach that milestone. He will be a freshman at the University of Denver this fall.

4. (NR) Blake Wheeler, RW 8.0C

It wasn’t surprising that Blake Wheeler decided to leave college early, however, it was surprising that he signed with the Bruins instead of the team that drafted him. Wheeler brings top-six potential on wing to the Bruins system, an area they sorely needed the added depth. A former teammate of Bruins forward Phil Kessel, in his three-year college career with the Golden Gophers (U. of Minnesota), Wheeler tallied 96 points in 127 games. He was often at or near the top of his team in scoring, however, he’s also been inconsistent in his production, something he will need to work on. In the past couple years, he has continued to fill out and mature both physically and mentally.  Wheeler is a good skater who can stickhandle at top speed and at 6’4 he’s got the size to be a dominant forward. Barring a lights out performance in training camp, Wheeler will most likely begin his pro career in Providence. 

5.  (4) Matt Lashoff, D 7.5B

With just two pro seasons under his belt, Matt Lashoff has not only evolved into one of the better defensemen in the AHL, earning him two AHL All-Star appearances, 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. The good news is, he has shown improvement and with increased confidence, a full-time NHL job won’t be far away.

A skilled puck-moving defenseman, Lashoff has the ability to contribute offensively both at even strength and on the power play, 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. While there is still room for improvement in Lashoff’s game, he has the tools to become a top-four defenseman in the NHL.

6. (5) Zach Hamill, C 7.5C

Hamill didn’t have his best season statistically in 2007-08, causing some criticism, but changes in Everett (WHL), coupled with the high expectations from being the league leading scorer in his draft year make this seem far worse than it really is. The Bruins’ top draft pick from 2007 will get the opportunity to prove himself at the pro level in 2008-09 on a full-time basis. A player who is gifted with the puck, Hamill can stickhandle his way through traffic and more often than not will come up with the big play. He’s got terrific hockey sense and vision, in addition to a tremendous work ethic and attitude. Hamill may never live up to the enormous expectations placed upon a top-ten first-round draft pick, but that doesn’t mean he can’t go on to be a very good NHL player. He has the potential to be a top-six forward in the NHL. 

7. (6) Carl Soderberg, C 7.5C

Bruins fans are still waiting to see if Soderberg is a bargain return for Hannu Toivonen, but unfortunately, it looks like yet again the Swede’s North American debut will have to wait. An explosive player with exceptional hockey sense, he can both create plays and score goals. He has good size and strength, as well as overall technical skills. Soderberg had missed significant playing time following an eye injury in 2006-07, but returned to form in 2007-08, averaging more than a point per game with Malmo. All of these things point to a forward who could play on one of the top two lines in the NHL.

At this point, the biggest question mark is his desire to play in North America. It is understandable for a player to want to work on his game close to home, and there’s no real rush to get him here, particularly if he isn’t ready to play in the NHL. Still, one has to wonder if he will ever be ready. There are plenty of Europeans who make the journey overseas with little more than a dream to play in the NHL, and as Soderberg has not made the trip since his trade to the Bruins, it could be considered a red flag. For now, however, he is still a part of the Bruins’ organization, and the hope is that he will someday not only suit up for them, but make a positive contribution.

8. (3) Vladimir Sobotka, C 7.0B

Sobotka was slated to play his first season in North America for the Providence Bruins (AHL) in 2007-08. He did begin the season with the baby B’s, however injuries in Boston led to a recall, and he remained there the rest of the season. Primarily a fourth line player as a rookie, he stuck with the team in large part because of his hockey intelligence and willingness to play the body. He’s not particularly big by NHL standards, but he’s a perfect example of a player who plays much bigger than his size — he’ll pay the price to make a play, and he’s just as apt to deal out hits as he is to take them. Sobotka has a greater ceiling offensively than he’s shown thus far in the NHL. While it’s not likely he’ll be a top line player, a solid second liner is not out of reach, and anything less than that would be a surprise.

9. (9) Brad Marchand, C 7.0C

Marchand played with the third team of his QMJHL career in the 2007-08, joining fellow Bruins prospect Andrew Bodnarchuk in Halifax in December 2007. Your typical pest type player, Marchand  is relentless in his pursuit of the puck, and he’s extremely difficult to knock off the puck.  At the junior level he was clearly a star, the type of player opponents needed to watch or he’d burn them, and he often used flashy, highlight-reel moves.

Marchand seems to enjoy the spotlight, which can be either good or bad, depending upon whether he can keep a level head on his shoulders. There is little doubt that he is both motivated and driven to be a winner, however, he needs to continue to mature and learn to better utilize his teammates if he’s to be a successful pro player. With his talent and skill, Marchand’s first pro season will be a huge test — it is his opportunity to prove that he can compete with the best of them.  

10. (14) Kevin Regan, G 7.0C

If Rask doesn’t pan out as expected, Regan could very well be the goaltender who steals the show for the Bruins. Coming off a tremendous college career with the University of New Hampshire, he is set to test the waters as a pro in 2008-09. Regan was an asset to his team at UNH, where he inspired confidence, and singlehandedly rewrote the school’s goaltending records. Regan has plenty going for him — he’s a quick, athletic goaltender who competes hard and is sound technically. He’s not a sure bet, but the combination of work ethic and natural ability will be what helps him succeed at the next level. Regan was signed by the Bruins and will begin his pro career in 2008-09.

11. (7) Adam McQuaid, D 7.0C

After coming to the Bruins from the Blue Jackets, McQuaid spent his rookie season with Providence. He’s one of very few stay at home defenders in the Bruins’ system who has size on his side at 6’3, though he still needs to bulk up considerably. He plays a very cut and dry style game, and for the most part with McQuaid you know what to expect. Of concern in the past was his skating ability, which he improved upon and while he doesn’t bring offense to the lineup, he does bring a little snarl. That he went from being a major project prior to his first pro season to a legit NHL prospect shows his work ethic — he showed up to camp prepared and ready to work hard. McQuaid has a good chance of playing in the NHL someday, though it will take at least one more season — most likely more — before he’s ready for an extended stay in Boston.

12. (8) Matt Hunwick, D 6.5C

After a strong four years of college with the University of Michigan, Hunwick turned pro in 2007-08, and spent the majority of his rookie season with the Providence Bruins. The former Wolverines captain is a slick skater who has a good head for the game. He attracted lots of attention in his first pro camp, and adapted quickly enough that he earned a look in Boston.  Considering it was his rookie season, and there were other defensemen in the system with more pro experience, that he got the opportunity to play in Boston is in itself quite an accomplishment. He’s not an offensive defenseman, and he’s not the biggest player, but he can move the puck and his hockey intelligence is tremendous. It will be the latter two things will get him to the NHL.

13. (17) Andrew Bodnarchuk, D 6.5C

Bodnarchuk has received more attention as of late, at least as a serious candidate to play in the NHL. Though on the small side for a defenseman, he is very mobile, he’s got a strong hockey IQ, and he’s got the ability to contribute offensively as well.  Much like Matt Hunwick, it is his skating and hockey sense that will give him the best opportunity for success as a pro, although Bodnarchuk is the more likely of the two to contribute offensively. He was easily one of the top defensemen in the QMJHL and a positive example for his teammates. In fact, he was the Mooseheads’ captain in his last season with the team. Bodnarchuk has been signed by the Bruins, and will begin his pro career this year.

14. (11) Yuri Alexandrov, D 7.0D

With a combination of size, mobility and hockey sense, there is much to like about Alexandrov. He moves the puck well, has considerable passing and shooting skills and he can play physical.  With three full seasons in the Russian Super League, he has continued to improve and has shown more consistency. Additionally, he’s got a tremendous amount of international tournament experience. The Bruins were unable to get him under contract, so unfortunately a debut in North America will not happen in the near future, if it happens at all. On the other hand, he is young, and the fact that the team retains his rights means that there is no real urgency to sign him. Unfortunately, an injury just prior to this season will take a couple months of playing time from Alexandrov, halting his development for the time being.

15. (12) Tommy Cross, D 7.0D 

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. He was also an invitee to the WJC Team USA tryout camp. Cross is a superb athlete who exemplifies many of the qualities of a future pro hockey player, however, the fact that he’s already had two knee surgeries could cause problems for him down the road. Still, he’s a big body who is able to effectively use his size and strength to shut down opponents. A strong skater with good mobility, Cross owns considerable hockey sense and is very aware of his defensive responsibilities. He also has the skill to contribute on offense, though this isn’t likely to be his role as a pro. Fortunately, because he’ll be attending college, the Bruins will have the opportunity to bring him along slowly. 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.  

16.  (10) Martins Karsums, RW 6.5C

Karsums fell just one game short of appearing in every regular season game for the Providence Bruins in 2007-08, and that was just to make sure he was rested for the playoffs. Staying healthy proved to be an enormous benefit towards his development, and the result was that his point production skyrocketed from his rookie season. Karsums was one of the best forwards for the P Bruins, a top line player who finished out the season second on the team in scoring (63 points in 79 games). He is an intense competitor, both gritty and skilled at the same time. 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, but Karsums appears to be well on his way. He may well be one of the first in line for a call-up in 2008-09.

17. (NR) Maxime Sauve, C 6.5C

As a pick from the 2008 entry draft, it is far too early to tell if Sauve will continue be yet another solid find among second-round draft picks by the Bruins.  A midseason trade in 2007-08 brought him to the Val d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL), where he finished second on the team in scoring. Speed is one of the first things you notice about Sauve, along with his puck skills. He plays a strong two-way game, he’s an aggressive forechecker, and he can both make plays and score goals. Sauve will need considerable polishing in all areas before he turns pro, but there is plenty to work with. 

18. (20) Jordan Knackstedt, RW 6.5C

A late-round pick in 2007, Jordan Knackstedt has steadily improved since his first WHL season in 2004-05. His most recent season in Moose Jaw, he had career highs statistically, led his team in scoring and was among the top ten of the league in scoring. Knackstedt is still a work in progress, and will need to improve his skating, as well as work on his strength. Tall and lanky, Knackstedt brings a nice mix of grit, character and skill to the table, all of which make him an attractive prospect.

19. (NR) Michael Hutchinson, G 7.0D

Hutchinson was the first goaltender chosen by the Bruins in the entry draft since 2003 when they selected both Mike Brown and Kevin Regan. He had a strong 2007-08 season with the Barrie Colts, particularly down the stretch and into the playoffs, where he demonstrated exceptional poise and confidence. Hutchinson has good overall mechanics, quick movement and a strong mental makeup. Additionally, he has the size to fill a lot of net. As he continues to mature and improve, Hutchinson could carve out an opportunity for himself in the Bruins organization. 

20. (15) Mikko Lehtonen, RW 6.5C

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.