Tyler Seguin headlines skilled and mobile group of prospects for Boston Bruins

By Bill Ladd
Photo: Ohio State product Matt Bartkowski is having a breakout rookie season in the AHL. He has already seen two games of NHL action and could expect to see more as the season winds on. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

These days the Boston Bruins are loaded with gifted prospects at both forward and defense. Shrewd trades and extra draft picks, including a 2010 lottery pick that was used on potential franchise center Tyler Seguin, have yielded an embarrassment of riches in the pipeline. Eight of the organization’s top-ten slots are occupied by versatile, intelligent, top-six forwards. And the organization has deliberately accumulated an abundance of quality two-way defenseman with second-pair upside. The lone weakness in the system remains the lack of a high-end, puck-moving, but with another top-ten pick coming up, that problem may also be solved at the June draft.

1. (1) Tyler Seguin, C/W, 9.0C
Acquired: 1st round, 2nd overall, 2010

Don’t let the modest stat line fool you; Tyler Seguin is most definitely a high-end talent on his way to NHL stardom. His speed, hands, vision, shot, and inner drive have Bruins’ fans and management brimming with excitement, and Seguin’s willingness to sacrifice offense in an effort to learn defense for the betterment of the team has ingratiated him to his coach and teammates.

But the process of a teenage Junior star into an NHL player capable of top-six minutes on a Stanley Cup contending team is a long and tedious one. The Bruins don’t put Seguin’s development ahead of winning, like so many other teams with high picks in recent years. They limit his minutes at all times and it seems, scoring 20 goals is secondary to him being a plus player. In fact, there have been nights when Seguin looked like one of Boston’s most dangerous offensive forwards, yet didn’t receive one extra minute in ice time.

Some critics have argued that it would have been better for Seguin to go back to Junior, dominate and then play for Canada at the World Juniors. They may be right, but the Bruins firmly believe they’re doing the right thing with Seguin. They think the things he needs to learn and improve upon, things like learning to play within an NHL system, and winning battles against men, are things he can only get from playing and practicing in the NHL. It’s a tough road, but it’s the same road Joe Thornton took, and it’s safe to say the former Hart Trophy Winner turned out alright.

2. (3) Jordan Caron, LW/RW, 7.0B
Acquired: 1st round, 25th overall, 2009

The Bruins most NHL-ready prospect is a poised, smart, big body presence that has already seen two stints in Boston this season. With Savard absent to start the year and Caron filling in, the Bruins showed no reservation using him as a regular penalty killer and defensive specialist, but Caron’s talents don’t end there. He has a Mike Knuble quality about his offensive game, going to the net, staying there, using his good hand and eye coordination to get his stick on pucks, and popping out of the fray to get open and unload a hard accurate wrister.

After getting sent down to Providence, Caron found his stride, recording 14 points in 18 games, forcing the Bruins to give him another look. Caron looks to be on the cusp of becoming an NHL regular, expect him to stick with the club next season, perhaps as Michael Ryder’s replacement.

To date, Caron has seven goals and 11 assists through 30 games in AHL and three goals and four assists through 23 games in the NHL.

3. (NR) Ryan Spooner, C/W, 7.5C
Acquired: 2nd round, 45th overall, 2010

Ryan Spooner was the last forward cut from the Bruins training camp in September, outlasting older, more heralded prospects like Joe Colborne (TOR) and Maxime Sauve. Perhaps the showing shouldn’t have come as a surprise, given how well Spooner performed at the rookie camp in July.

Spooner has used that strong showing as a spring board towards a successful junior season, where despite a somewhat controversial trade request that sent him to the Kingston Frontenacs, Spooner is playing with confidence and is scoring well over a point-per-game. Fast and elusive with soft hands and excellent vision but still lacking in strength, and his defensive shortcomings led to a temporary demotion to the third line by head coach Doug Gilmour. To his credit, he recognizes his shortcomings and is working hard at improving his defensive game, and has added a little over ten pounds since the draft. Expect another strong training camp from Spooner to force some hard decisions for Boston in September, as Spooner still won’t be old enough to be eligible to play in the AHL.

4. (18) Maxime Sauve, LW, 7.0C
Acquired: 2nd round, 47th overall, 2008

Injuries have made Maxime Sauve one of Boston’s best kept secrets. The French born forward played only 25 games for Val d’Or Foreurs last season, but still managed to put up 13 goals and 35 points. In camp, Sauve impressed with his speed, hands and tenacity and was one of the bright spots in preseason action. And even after being sent down, he continued to deliver, scoring three goals and four points in his first four games. But then, as luck would have it, Sauve suffered a wrist injury costing him almost two full months. He came back from the injury strong, but has faded a bit of late. Still, if he were able to play a full schedule of games, Sauve would be scoring at a 31 goal pace.

If it weren’t for his Injuries and slight frame, Sauve would likely garner similar praise as Caron. He’s not as big or physical, but he’s more dynamic offensively and could potentially be the more productive point-getter. If he can remain healthy and get in a good summer of strength training Sauve could legitimately challenge for a spot in Boston next year.

5. (5) Jared Knight, RW/LW, 7.0C
Acquired: 2nd round, 32nd overall, 2010

Mr. Intangibles. Jared Knight is the kind of player that’s hard to measure on a stat sheet. Not that his numbers are bad, he’s scoring at a point per game clip, it’s just that he brings great character, work-ethic, and determination as well. Few players in the CHL go to the net with as much drive as Knight. And there aren’t many you’d rather see with the puck on their stick with the game on the line, evidenced convincingly by Knight’s 70 percent shootout rate and the fact that a quarter of his goals are game winners. If anything, Knight’s stats are somewhat deflated by the lack of a supporting cast. He plays with two rookies and leads his team in every offensive category. But ideally, he’d play with someone who woul
d allow him to get open to unleash his NHL-caliber shot, or give him the puck in situations where he could get a step on the defense and drive to the net. Last year, that player was Nazem Kadri (TOR). Perhaps in the future it will be Tyler Seguin. The two were a tour de force at Bruins development camp last Summer.

6. (NR) Steven Kampfer, D, 7.0C
Acquired: Trade with Anaheim in 2010

Admittedly, Kampfer is a tough player to rank. Coming into the season, not many would have thought he had the potential to be a top-four defenseman in the NHL. His college numbers were average. He isn’t big and he doesn’t have elite speed. But a top-four defenseman is exactly what Steven Kampfer is today, playing 20 minutes a night, against top lines, alongside Zdeno Chara. Now, a month in the NHL doesn’t make you a top-four defenseman. Bruins fans learned that lesson all too well with Matt Hunwick. But what sets him apart from his predecessor, is Kampfer’s intelligence. He makes smart decisions, and good reads. He doesn’t get flustered by pressure as easily and he’s confident in his ability to carry the puck. And while Kampfer may not possess elite straight line speed, he does have terrific mobility and that agility that allows him to maintain good positioning and gap control. It also allows him to turn from defense to offense in an instant and start the transition game. He also hasn’t let his size stop him from throwing his weight around, and has already laid out several bigger NHL veterans like Scott Hartnell.

What kind of growing pains await Steven Kampfer, and how long he can remain a top-four defenseman, well, that’s to be determined. But the fact that he’s doing it right now and having a positive impact in that role makes me think that the potential is there, and that Chiarelli may have hit a homerun when he dealt a fourth-round pick for this diamond in the rough.

7. (12) Matt Bartkowski, D, 6.5C
Acquired: Trade with Florida in 2010

Matt Bartkowski opened some eyes in Bruins training camp. Perceived by many to be a throw-in to the deadline day trade that brought Boston Dennis Seidenberg, he was the last defenseman cut from the team and even made the trip to Europe to start the year. A strong skater, and solid two-way defenseman projects to be a 4th or 5th defenseman down the line, and has already gotten two call-ups to Boston in this, his first pro season. Expect Bartkowski to seriously challenge for a job in the fall, especially with veteran defenseman Mark Stuart being recently traded.

8. (7) Jamie Arniel, C/W, 6.5C
Acquired: 4th round, 97th overall, 2010

Jamie Arniel got off to a torrid start for the Providence Bruins this season, scoring 11 goals and 20 points in 22 games across November and December. And even though he has cooled off from that hot start, he’s still on pace for over 20 goals and 50 points, leading the team in both categories. A gutsy, fast, two-way player in the mold of a Chuck Kobasew, Arniel earned a call-up to Boston in December and acquitted himself well in his first taste of NHL action. Look for Arniel to compete for a job on Boston’s 4th line next September.

9. (4) Zach Hamill, C, 6.5C
Acquired: 1st round, 8th overall, 2010

Zack Hamill is quietly playing his way back to relevance on the Bruins prospect list. After two years in which he showed little life, and almost no signs of being the player that won the WHL scoring title in his draft year, Zack has finally started to pick it up, scoring 11 points in 11 games in November, and 12 points and a plus-five in 15 games in January. The January stretch was impressive enough to earn a call-up to Boston for a three game stretch in which he recorded one, very nice assist in an emotional win over archrival Montreal. Back in Providence now, Hamill’s next challenge is to find a modicum of consistency and maintain this new level of play for the stretch run.

10. (NR) David Warsofsky, D, 6.5C
Acquired: Trade with St. Louis in 2010

Like Kampfer, Warsofsky is another undersized, puck moving defenseman from the college ranks that the Bruins targeted and traded for in the last year. His numbers are impressive, and his three years at BU very closely mirror the production of his former teammate and Colorado Avalanche standout Kevin Shattenkirk. And while his defense still needs work, we could very well see him finish the season in Providence. Given Warsofky’s production and pedigree, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him match or even exceed Kampfer’s accomplishments in due time.

11. (NR) Ryan Button, D, 6.5C
Acquired: 3rd round, 86th overall, 2009

Button has been a hard prospect to nail down for some time. You could make the case that he was the best defenseman at Boston’s summer development camp, a camp that featured both Matt Bartkowski and Steven Kampfer. He showed outstanding hands, vision, mobility and creativity, and wasn’t shy about using his size either. He looked like a young Brian Cambpell spinning off forecheckers, rushing the puck, and shaking loose shot blockers with tremendous lateral moves. But when he went back to his junior team in Prince Albert, none of that flair seemed to show through, posting just 23 points in 44 games in a mostly defense-first role. Some critics have attributed this disconnect to the style and personnel of the Prince Albert team, and a trade to Seattle earlier this month has unshackled Button a bit, posting six points in 11 games for his new team. But realistically, Button’s true potential won’t be revealed until he’s able to join Providence and play next to his peers.

12. (2) Yuri Alexandrov, D, 6.5C
Acquired: 2nd round, 37th overall, 2006

The smooth skating, cerebral Russian defender has had a lot to work through as he transitioned from Russia to the States; adjusting to the language, the style of play, the smaller rinks, the food, and so on. Perhaps the biggest adjustment has been to the fitness requirements inherent in the North American pro game. Apparently, Alexandrov had no formal training regimen with his KHL team, and it showed at the summer development camp where he frequently looked winded and out of gas. Improvements were made over the summer leading up to the main camp, but Alexandrov was still one of only a handful of players to fail main camp’s fitness test. These challenges have led to an uneven season, posting a modest 16 point, minus-eight through 53 games. Hopefully, Alexandrov won’t be discouraged by the setbacks and will use them as motivation to come to camp next year in his best shape ever. Expect another year in the AHL

13. (13) Maxim Chudinov, D, 6.5C
Acquired: 7th round, 195th overall, 2010

It’s hard to know what the Bruins have in Maxim Chudinov. The Russian-born KHLer hasn’t played much stateside, but what the scouts tell us is that he’s a strong, stocky, bullish defenseman with good offensive instincts. At just 20 years old, he’s playing over 22 minutes per game for Cherepovets Severstal, and has put up 20 points in 51 games so far. Alexandrov’s former defense partner plans to spend one more season in the KHL before coming over to North America. But there’s a chance he could come to the Bruins development camp in July, where it would be great to see him go against his peers.

14. (NR) Colby Cohen, D, 6.5C
Acquired: Trade with Colorado in 2010

Colby Cohen gives the Bruins four defensemen that they’ve acquired in the last 12 months from the College ranks. Steven Kampfer, David Warsofsky and Matt Bartkowski are the other three. And like them, Colby may prove to be a real find. His offensive numbers improved in each of his three years at Boston University culminating in an impressive 14 goal junior season last year where he was used as the main trigger man on the power play, setting up at the top of the left circle unloading his heavy, one-timer with precision. In fact, he won the National Title for BU with an OT winner on just such a goal. Cohen still has work to do on his skating and defensive zone play, but is otherwise a smart, strong defender who doesn’t play mean, but will lay the body. A wrist injury interrupted this, his first pro season, but in 23 games with Providence he’s been solid, posting a goal and seven points. Cohen has an outside chance at competing for a job with Boston next fall, but the more likely developmental path would be for him to get one more season in the AHL.

15. (6) Tommy Cross, D, 6.5C
Acquired: 2nd round, 35th overall, 2007

Tommy Cross has had to overcome a series of injuries that have prevented him from taking part in development camps and in some cases cut his season short. Even now, his primary area of weakness is a lack of footspeed, the development of which could have been compromised by the serious knee injury he sustained last year. But the junior at Boston College has persevered through it all and has developed into the backbone of BC’s defense. This season he’s also beginning to tap into some offensive potential not previously seen, and even scored the OT game winner in the Beanpot preliminary round and then recorded three points in the Championship game, which BC won. He now has five goals and eleven points in 119 games for Eagles. It’s unclear whether Cross will turn pro at the end of this season or, return for his senior year.

16. (NR) Zane Gothberg, G, 6.5C
Acquired: 6th round, 165th overall, 2010

With 23-year-old Tuukka Rask in Boston, the Bruins felt they could take a chance on drafting a long-term project in goaltender Zane Gothberg. Athletic and dexterous, Gothberg plays a competitive, hybrid style featuring excellent puck-handling skills and is having an eventful season. After being one of the youngest players chosen in the 2010 draft, Gothberg went from staring down Minnesota high schoolers to the Bruins development camp and facing second overall pick Tyler Seguin. Later that summer he participated in the US World Junior evaluation camp, and while he didn’t pull off the upset and win a spot on the team, he did have a strong showing. In November, he won Gold at the World Jr A challenge, and that experience inspired a new level of confidence in his game, allowing him to elevate his game for Fargo of the USHL. Currently, Gothberg has an 11-6 record, a 2.18 goals against average, and a .909 save percentage. He will attend the University of North Dakota in the Fall.

17. (16) Craig Cunningham, C/W, 6.5C
Acquired: 4th round, 97th overall, 2010

Cunningham is having a strong year. The small but determined center/winger looked sharp alongside Ryan Spooner at Boston’s July development camp, and he carried that play with him back to Vancouver where he came out of the gates firing and even led the WHL in scoring for a month long stretch to the start of the season. The former Memorial Cup winner shares a summer workout regimen with current Bruin and former Vancouver teammate Milan Lucic. And in December, Cunningham was traded to Portland where his character, experience and leadership should figure prominently in their Memorial Cup run.

18. (14) Michael Hutchinson, G, 6.0C
Acquired: 3rd round, 77th overall, 2008

Hutchinson is working his way through a challenging rookie season in the AHL. At one point, he had won the starting job from AHL journeyman Nolan Schaefer but he wasn’t able to maintain that high level of play and has recently been relegated to backup status on the heels of a torrid run by Matt Dalton. He may get another chance however as the team defense in Providence leaves a lot to be desired and even Dalton has fallen back down to earth as he, Hutchinson, and Schaefer all sit with save percentages in the .894-904 range. Rangy and athletic, Hutchinson’s biggest weakness is a lack of consistency which is certainly not uncommon to rookie goaltenders but in this case, it’s been a criticism that’s followed him from his OHL days.

19. (NR) Lane MacDermid, LW/RW, 5.0C
Acquired: 4th round, 112th overall, 2009

Lane MacDermid is one of the hardest working players in the Bruins organization, both on and off the ice. Big, mean and a willing combatant, MacDermid will hit and fight anyone who crosses his path. In his second pro season, all that hard work is paying dividends as MacDermid has shown notable gains in all areas of his game, including his offense, where his five goals and 13 points are more than double last year’s totals. Look for MacDermid to continue to mold himself into a Shawn Thornton-esque fourth liner, one who’s capable of playing a regular shift as well as fulfilling his pugilistic duties.

20. (8) Mikko Lehtonen, LW/RW, 7.0F
Acquired: 3rd round, 83rd overall, 2005

Lehtonen is a bit of an enigma. He’s big, he’s fast, he put up solid numbers as an AHL rookie last year, and he’s tearing up the Swedish Elite League right now with 27 goals and 52 points in 49 games. So why is he not a viable NHL prospe
ct? Well, in Providence his effort and intensity wavered, as did his willingness to go the dirty areas of the ice. And instead of working to improve on those things and come back more determined he chose to leave and return to Europe. Recently, he claimed through his agent that he’d like another crack at the NHL, but chances of that happening with Boston are slim. Still, if there’s a chance that his agent may be able to work out a trade that would get him back to North America, he’s worth mentioning on this list because of his considerable skill-set.