With the Boston Bruins finishing just two points out of a playoff spot last year, Peter Chiarelli leaving Boston for the Edmonton Oilers, and long-time Bruin and fan favorite Milan Lucic being traded to the Los Angeles Kings in the offseason, many experts pegged the Bruins as a rebuilding team. Incoming General Manager Don Sweeney adamantly disagreed—despite the fact the team had three first-round picks on draft day.
Now that the regular season is upon us, it appears Sweeney was telling the truth. Boston does plan on continuing to stay competitive, seemingly retooling rather than engaging in a full on rebuild. That means the farm team in Providence is going into the 2015-16 season with a roster stacked full of blue chips destined to make it to the NHL sooner rather than later.
Goaltending, defense and center remain top strengths in the system, making it clear that the Bruins organization as a whole is committed to building a solid team up the middle. A team strong up the middle is the mark of a solid organization in both the NHL and the AHL. Both the present and future are bright and loaded with potential.
The Bruins have a decidedly veteran presence on the left side at the NHL level. Brad Marchand, Matt Beleskey and Maxime Talbot have three of those spots by default. Newcomer Jimmy Hayes arrived after spending last year with the Florida Panthers, and offers the best mix of both upside and NHL experience among all of Boston’s young talent. Make no mistake about it though, just because the team is pretty established and left wing, doesn’t mean it isn’t ready to farm out some of the next generation’s best wingers in Providence too.
This year’s first-round draft pick, Jake Debrusk, is at the head of all that promise. He’s the son of former NHL or Louie Debrusk, but he plays a much different game than his dad did. Jake is small, but relies on skill and speed. He’s worked hard on improving his game over the last two years, which is what catapulted him to draft-worthy status. Just beginning his third year in junior, Debrusk won’t be a member of the Providence Bruins for a little while, but is good enough that he might crack the big club next year if all goes well.
Other left-wingers to watch within the organization include Peter Cehlarik, who is playing over in Sweden, Providence veteran Justin Florek and Anthony Camara. Camara may someday be a useful checker, but at the moment, Florek probably has the upper hand on his teammate in regard to getting to the NHL. He has already played in one career game, and simply has more skill than his counterpart. Overall, it seems the Bruins have plenty of time to develop players at left wing, and with a strong complement of centers seeded within the organization, the wings are where the team will likely focus a good portion of its draft strategy next summer.
As mentioned, center is a position of strength both in Boston and in Providence. For one, it looks like Ryan Spooner has graduated to the big club. His 18 points in 29 games at the NHL level last year proved enough to stick him right behind Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci on the depth chart. He’ll likely be playing with young wingers around him, but Spooner has been a top-notch prospect in the Bruins’ system since he was drafted back in 2010. It’s time for him to cash in on his potential in the NHL.
At some point in the season, Spooner could be playing alongside Alexander Khokhlachev. Khokhlachev has a ton of skill to offer. He’s played four career games in the NHL and he’ll get a longer look sooner rather than later. Although he started the year in Providence, he has played on the team’s top scoring line. His ability and finesse is undeniable and it’s only a matter of time before Khokhlachev is tearing it up on hockey’s biggest stage.
The other prospect in the system that should get an extended look at some point is Seth Griffith. He looks to be the odd man out in Boston for now, but an injury here and there will find him up with another chance to prove himself. Outside of centers on the bubble at the moment, the long term future for the club features the likes of playmaker Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, collegiate star Danton Heinen and Ryan Fitzgerald, a talent whose bloodlines dictate future employment in the NHL. The Bruins organization is definitely stacked up the middle for years to come.
If there is one area where the Bruins lack depth in both the major and minor leagues, it could be argued that it would be at the right wing position. That’s why it makes perfect sense that the organization drafted one of the best young prospects in the OHL this past summer in former Sault Ste. Marie Greyhound Zachary Senyshyn. He is the future and while he still a few years away from making his debut in Beantown, it’s clear that he is a gifted goal scorer. So far this season, Senyshyn has found the twine six times in 12 games for the Greyhounds.
Perhaps Senyshyn will be Boston’s next David Pastrnak, who has pretty much guaranteed himself he won’t be going back to Providence anytime soon. The young Czech is expected to build on his 27 points in 46 games last year and be one of the breakout stars of the 2015-16 season. The unfortunate part for the Bruins is that aside from Senyshyn there really aren’t too many breakout stars waiting in the wings down in Providence. For now the team will have to fill to make that a priority going into future drafts.
That doesn’t mean that Brian Ferlin won’t be a serviceable player in the big league someday. He played a two-way role effectively in Providence last year and he’ll likely earn his way to Boston playing that brand of hockey. A third- or fourth-line role in the NHL is probably as good as it gets for him, but Ferlin would be the next in line nonetheless.
Defense is one area where Bruins prospects have an opportunity to make an impact at the NHL level. Stalwart veteran Dennis Seidenberg is out up to eight weeks trying to recover from a herniated disc in his spine. With him out, only Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug and Adam McQuaid have secured roles on the team. That leaves four openings on the NHL roster for Zach Trotman, Kevan Miller, Colin Miller and Joe Morrow. Morrow and the latter Miller probably have the best shot at staying with the club given their status within the organization. Both have done well and earned the opportunity.
Jakub Zboril will likely be a big time player in Boston in the future, but for now he has returned to the QMJHL’s St. John Sea Dogs. He is a player with a lot of upside and offensive ability. He can dominate the play on both sides of the puck, and he’ll have lots of time to develop on a competitive major junior team.
Overall, the next two years in Boston should represent quite a transition in the team’s defense corps, and it’s safe to say that with the talent available in Providence, much of the team’s plans to replenish as the years go by will be to promote from within the organization.
With Niklas Svedberg making the decision to take off overseas for a new opportunity outside of the NHL, most assumed that Malcolm Subban would get a shot at backing up starting netminder Tuukka Rask in Boston this season. Don Sweeney has decided otherwise.
The team signed veteran Jonas Gustavsson just a week before the regular season, meaning that Subban will likely be the workhorse goaltender in Providence. It makes sense for the long term, and given that Gustavsson only appeared in seven games last year for the Detroit Red Wings, it’s clear that Subban’s time will come eventually.
Gustavsson’s signing could also mean that Jeremy Smith finds himself back in Providence, although it’s more likely that the Bruins will indeed start the season with three goaltenders on the NHL roster. Zane McIntyre has an unorthodox style but it seems like he may be an NHL goaltender someday. For now it’s more likely he would finish his collegiate career with North Dakota first.
The distant future also looks bright between the pipes for the Bruins’ organization. Daniel Vladar has plenty of size and promise and although he still very young, could be a big-time goalie someday.