A year ago at this time the Boston Bruins‘ cupboard was fairly barren when it came to players skating in junior hockey—only former Saint John Sea Dogs left winger Mitchell Dempsey and current Harvard freshman Ryan Donato were playing in the junior ranks.Dempsey was never signed by the Bruins while Donato—who skated in the USPHL and the USHL while finishing his prep career at Dexter last season—will likely use most of his NCAA eligibility before being NHL-ready.
With six draft choices in the first two rounds of the 2015 NHL Draft thanks to trades, including three consecutive first round picks, the Bruins used five of those first six picks on players now skating in the Canadian Hockey League. Boston then added three more players who are currently in junior hockey in the latter rounds.
The group includes three defensemen who have the potential to be special players—St. John’s Jakub Zboril (Czech Republic), Brandon Carlo (United States) of the WHL’s Tri-City Americans , and Rouyn-Noranda’s Jeremy Lauzon (Canada) are all making a push to skate for their respective nations in the upcoming U20 World Juniors as 18-year-olds.
After selecting Zboril with the 13th overall pick in the first round, Boston snared a couple of talented forwards with the next two picks; Swift Current Broncos’ left wing Jake DeBrusk and right wing Zachary Senyshyn, who is in his second season with the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
Regina Pats’ left wing Jesse Gabrielle, taken in the fourth round (105th overall) rounds out the group of draft picks currently playing in the CHL and has scored at a point-per-game pace to start the 2015-16 season.
Goalie Daniel Vladar, drafted in the third round after playing for the Kladno junior team in his native Czech Republic last year, is skating for the USHL’s Chicago Steel. He is ineligible to play college hockey and will likely spend at least one more season in junior hockey next year. Jack Becker, the Bruins’ final pick in the seventh round, started the season with the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede.
Jeremy Lauzon, D, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
Acquired: 2nd round (52nd overall), 2015
The third of the three defensemen selected in the 2015 draft by Boston, Lauzon has been an offensive force for the Huskies to start the 2015-16 season. Trailing only Shawinigan’s Samuel Girard for the points lead amongst league defensemen, he was selected to play for the QMJHL all-stars in the Subway Series against Russia.
His high-flying, risk-taking style may need refining at the NHL level but Lauzon plays a fairly responsible game in his own end and has the size and combativeness to engage in physical play. Playing for a Rouyn-Noranda team that lost just two games in regulation in its first 24 games, Lauzons’ offensive totals may be a bit inflated but he has been a big part of that success.
Now in his third QMJHL season, the Val d’Or native has already topped his previous career high with 24 assists in his first 19 games and is plus-19 with three goals and 34 penalty minutes. Lauzon recently signed a three-year entry-level contract with Boston.
Jakub Zboril, D, Saint John Sea Dogs
Acquired: 1st round (13th overall), 2015
Zboril signed an entry-level deal with the Bruins in July following development camp and was given a long look in training camp before being returned to Saint John for his first full season in North America. A product of the Brno junior program in his hometown, he has the technical skills, tactical game and skating ability that suggests he can be an elite defenseman. Zboril’s combination of size, aggressiveness and skating ability separates him from some of the other young defensemen prospects.
The Sea Dogs are battling Moncton for the top spot in the Maritimes Division and since returning to Saint John at the end of Bruins’ training camp Zboril has been skating on the club’s second defense pairing with 2016 draft-eligible 17-year-old Luke Green. More of an all-around defenseman than a pure puck-mover, Zboril is expected to make strides after skating in just 44 regular season games due to injury in his first season with the Sea Dogs last year.
In 16 games to start the year he has scored three goals with four assists and was plus-2 with 20 penalty minutes.
Brandon Carlo, D, Tri-City Americans
Acquired: 2nd round (37th overall), 2015
Carlo has experienced both highs and lows early in his third season with the Americans. Impressive in Bruins training camp, he stayed in Boston longer than expected and was ultimately signed to an entry-level contract. The Colorado Springs native then had eight points in his first 11 games before suffering an upper-body injury in a game against Portland that has had him out of the lineup for nearly three weeks.
One of 10 defensemen on USA Hockey’s final U20 roster following the Lake Placid evaluation camp in August, Carlo’s injury makes it uncertain if he’ll be ready for the team’s main camp. What is beyond question has been his mature game for a player of his age. Carlo uses his size and skating ability to his advantage and can adapt his skill set to suit the style of game being played.
In 11 games with Tri-City he scored one goal with seven assists and was minus-4, while his 32 penalty minutes tied him for second with two other players behind team-leader Max James (54). Tri-City has struggled to start the season due to injuries to Carlo and some others, winning just seven of their first 20 games and is currently last in the U.S. Division.
Jake DeBrusk, LW, Swift Current Broncos
Acquired: 1st round (14th overall), 2015
Like Tri-City, the Broncos are struggling to escape the basement in their respective division (East). DeBrusk was off to a fast start before suffering a lower-body injury while blocking a shot against Victoria’s Joe Hicketts. DeBrusk is second on the team in both goals (six) and assists (14) despite skating in just 14 of 20 games. The injury is expected to keep him out of the lineup for a significant time and could affect his ability to play for Canada in the 2015 World Junior Championship in Finland.
The son of one-time NHL forward Louie DeBrusk, the Edmonton native recently turned 19 and was drafted as a late 1996-born player in his first year of eligibility. Even prior to his injury he didn’t figure to match the 42 goals he scored last season—when the Broncos had veteran forwards like fellow Bruins prospect Colby Cave and Coda Gordon as well as defenseman Brett Lernout (MTL)—but the added responsibilities were expected to help him improve the supplementary areas of his game.
DeBrusk was selected to play for the WHL all-stars in the Subway Series against Russia before suffering his injury.
Jesse Gabrielle, LW, Regina Pats
Acquired: 4th round (105th overall), 2015
Gabrielle was a hard-to-play-against, sandpaper-type player in his first two WHL seasons with Brandon and Regina but has emerged as a scoring leader for a young Prince George team in his third year. A native of Moosimin, Saskatchewan, Gabrielle has scored 14 goals in 19 games to lead the Cougars and is plus-1 with six assists and 29 penalty minutes.
Not a pure goal scorer, Gabrielle plays with a high energy level and uses all of his tools to advantage. His increased offensive output is encouraging but his calling card at the NHL level is likely to be that of a pesky, checking forward.
Zachary Senyshyn, RW, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Acquired: 1st round (15th overall), 2015
With several top players moving on to pro hockey, things figured to be different for Sault Ste. Marie this year. After reaching the Western Conference finals last season the Greyhounds are struggling to stay above .500 with several new faces.
The increased responsibilities, however, have allowed Senyshyn the opportunity to expand his game and continue to develop. Currently tied for the team goal-scoring lead with 10 goals in 20 games, Senyshyn has played in all situations.
The Nepean native’s offensive skills have always been evident. To become an effective NHL forward he will need to continue to develop as a two-way forward and add consistency from shift-to-shift.
Jack Becker, C, Sioux Falls Stampede
Acquired: 7th round (195th overall), 2015
Becker was drafted by the Bruins after dominating in the small school ranks of Minnesota high school hockey, leading Mahtomedi to the A division state tournament. At 6-foot-3, 188 lbs. he has the ideal size of an NHL forward and should add strength and learn to use that size to advantage as he continues to mature.
A long-term project at this time, Becker chose to forego his senior year of high school hockey to play for Sioux Falls before heading to the University of Wisconsin in 2016-17.
Becker appeared in two games with Sioux Falls following the high school season in 2014-15 and had one assist. Skating in a full time role with the Stampede this year he has scored two goals with four assists and is minus-3 with no penalties in 15 games.
Daniel Vladar, G, Chicago Steel
Acquired: 3rd round (75th overall), 2015
The first of four goalies from the Czech Republic selected in the 2015 NHL Draft—including Becker’s Sioux Falls teammate Ales Stezka—Vladar has shared time with Michigan State University recruit John Lethemon in his first USHL season. While the Steel has struggled to start the year, Vladar has played well when called upon.
A huge goalie who uses his large frame to advantage, Vladar opened eyes with his play in the Bruins development camp before joining Chicago for the Junior Club World Cup in Russia. In nine regular season games for the Steel he is 1-4-2 with a 2.33 goals against and .912 save percentage.
The Bruins are fairly well-stocked in net, but Vladar’s progress will be watched closely.
Top Performing Non-Junior Prospects
Ryan Spooner is flourishing in the third line center role for Boston. Now 23, Spooner played 29 games for Boston in 2014-15 and has established himself as an NHL-calibre forward after cameo appearances with Boston in each of the previous three seasons. He now has 12 points (5 goals, 7 assists) in 21 games.
Left wing Frank Vatrano and defenseman Colin Miller are two rookies making an impact. Miller has been a fixture in the Bruins’ rotation this year, providing offense from the blueline and averaging 15 minutes of ice time until a lower-body injury put him out of the lineup on a day-to-day basis. Vatrano scored 10 goals with two assists in his first ten games with AHL affiliate Providence. The Bruins recalled him at the beginning of November, and he scored a goal in his NHL debut against Montreal.
In Providence, Alexander Khokhlachev (who appeared in two NHL games in November), and first-year pro Austin Czarnik have paced the offense. Khokhlachev scored four goals with nine assists in his first 11 AHL games while Czarnik, a 2014 graduate of Miami University, scored two goals with five assists in seven games despite missing four weeks with an injury.
The Bruins have several players performing well at the college level. Highly-skilled but diminutive Ryan Fitzgerald trails only freshman Colin White in scoring for the Eagles with 10 goals and nine assists and is a team-best plus-19 in the first 12 games. Jacob-Forsbacka-Karlsson is skating for BC archival Boston University as a 19-year-old freshman, where he has four goals and nine assists in his first 14 games.
On the other side of town, Donato is in his freshman season at Harvard. In his first eight games the son of Harvard head coach and former Bruin Ted Donato has four goals with three assists.
Goalie Niklas Svedberg is off to the best start amongst the three Bruins prospects in Europe. Stuck behind Rask as the team’s backup last year following two seasons with Providence, Svedberg is the starter for KHL club Ufa Salavat Yulayev. Playing 13 games in October, he was 10-2 and for the season is 18-10-2 with a 2.44 goals against and .906 save percentage.
Prospect of the Month: Frank Vatrano
While several of the highly-regarded prospects are living up to expectations, one player who’s performance to this point has been surprising is the 21-year-old Vatrano. A native of East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, Vatrano was never drafted. He was signed as a free agent last March after scoring 18 goals in 36 games for the University of Massachusetts, a team that finished next-to-last in Hockey East in 2015-16. Vatrano is not likely to score at the NHL level the way he has in college, and he will need to be more consistent in all three zones if he is to stay in the NHL—but the fact that he has arrived so quickly after skating at the college level last year suggests there is some potential. Despite his lack of height he is thickly built and is difficult to knock off the puck.
Follow Tony Piscotta on Twitter via @Piscottas_Way