Doug Hamilton new top prospect for Boston Bruins

By Bill Ladd
Photo: Drafted 40th overall in 2011, Alexander Khokhlachev was widely believed to be a first round talent. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

Times are good for the Boston Bruins. Not only did they win the Stanley Cup and managed to retain the majority of their cup-winning roster, but the organization added two highly regarded prospects in Doug Hamilton and Alexander Khokhlachev.

1. (NR) Doug Hamilton, D, 8.5C
Drafted 1st round, 9th overall, 2011

At the Bruin’s development camp in August, Hamilton wasted no time impressing his future employers, showing off an awe-inspiring combination of size, skating, defensive dominance, and offensive flair. Shift in, shift out, he shutdown forwards in the corner, read plays, stepped up to intercept passes, and started offensive plays up ice.

At Canada’s World Junior camp in July, he stood out for his defensive game and ornery style of play. Of the 12 goals allowed by his team, not one was scored with Hamilton on the ice. A feat made more impressive by the fact that Hamilton was paired with one of the few 2012 draft eligible players in camp, defenseman Rob Murray. He also threw several big, open ice hits and got into it with left-wing Rob Gallagher after nailing him in the corner.

If there is one thing holding Hamilton back from playing in NHL for 2011-12 it is his wire-thin frame. He will follow a similar development arc as big-bodied defensemen Alex Pietrangelo (STL) or Tyler Myers (BUF).

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

Jordan Caron is the Bruins most NHL-ready prospect. The 6’3 204lb power forward actually made the team out of camp last year and gave Boston fans a glimpse of what’s to come by scoring three goals in his first seven games and leading the team in short-handed time-on-ice, but he seemed to lose some steam as the season wore on, and when Savard returned to the lineup he was sent down after 23 NHL games. By the end of the season, Caron was back with the big club, skating as the 14th forward during their playoff march and taking part in all post-season pre-game warm ups.

The departures of Mark Recchi and Michael Ryder provide an opportunity for Caron to permanently seize a spot in the lineup. The Bruins pride themselves in being tough to play against and while Caron isn’t mean in the Milan Lucic sense, he is a powerful and determined player who wins board battles, knows how to work the top of a crease, and excels at the cycle game. Caron’s numbers suggest that it wouldn’t hurt to continue develop his offensive game in Providence, but he’s physically ready and poised beyond his years defensively. In fact, Caron’s defensive maturity may give him the inside track on a shutdown line centered by Patrice Bergeron.

3. (6) Jared Knight, RW/LW, 7.0B
Drafted 2nd round, 32nd overall, 2010

Jared Knight is the single hardest working prospect in the Bruins organization. He’s just 5’10 but he’s up to 205lbs and he’s now added triathlons to his summer training regimen. Last year was a bit of a transition season for Knight. He lost a dynamic center in Nazem Kadri (TOR) to the AHL and as a result, learned to play with the puck more, and improve his overall passing game. Like Spooner, Knight joined Providence for their last three games of the season and acquitted himself well.

Regardless of Knight’s production, he is a determined, responsible leader. He plays a fearless, power forward’s game, driving the net as often and as hard as anyone in junior hockey. Physically, he is almost ready to compete at the NHL level. However making the Bruins this year will not be an easy task, as all of Benoit Pouliot, Jordan Caron, Max Sauve, Jamie Arniel, and Ryan Spooner will be vying for the same two jobs. Like Spooner, Knight may be better served by one final year in junior, where he’ll be able to continue developing his offensive game, and have a chance to compete for his country.

4. (4) Ryan Spooner, C/W, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 45th overall, 2010

There will be a lot of eyes on Ryan Spooner in September. The 2010 second round pick was the surprise of training camp last fall and the last forward cut from camp. With another year of development, some much needed muscle added to his frame, and a newly minted NHL contract, expectations are even higher this time around.

After the end of Spooner’s OHL season that saw him post 35 goals and 81 points in 64 regular season games, and another six points in five playoff games, Spooner reported to the Bruins AHL affiliate where he managed three points in three games.

The forward took only ten days off to rest and recuperate before he started training for the coming season. By the time development camp rolled around in July, it was clear that Spooner had been hard at work. There was some mass to his frame now, depth in his chest and power in his legs. He dominated the scrimmages and was the best offensive player on the ice by a fair margin.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to duplicate that performance at the Canadian World Junior camp. He played on a line with Brett Connolly (TB) and Ryan Strome (NYI) and while they had moments, all three were fairly quiet in terms of production.

Competition for spots in Boston this fall will be fierce. If Spooner doesn’t make the big club, representing his county at the World Juniors wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize.

5. (NR) Alexander Khokhlachev, LW/C, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 40th overall, 2011

The Bruins may have found a real gem when they selected Alexander Khokhlachev 40th overall. In just his first year in North America, Khokhlachev put up 34 goals and 76 points in 67 games for the Windsor Spitfires. A feat made more impressive by the fact that he couldn’t speak a word of English, though that is now no longer an issue, thanks to private lesson. But perhaps what separates Koko, as he is referred to by most, from other prospects is he was just six days short of being ineligible until 2012.

At Boston’s development camp, Khokhlachev displayed tremendous vision and creativity. Most scouting reports pegged him as a shooter who liked the dirty areas, and while he definitely has that in his game, his best asset is his ability to carry the puck, survey his options, and create offense for his linemates with deft passing plays. At the draft Peter Chiarelli compared his style to a young Scott Gomez, and the similarities are apparent. Although, Khokhlachev’s skating style is a little different, he isn’t quite at Gomez’ level in terms of straight line speed, and he has Jeff Skinner‘s (CAR) ability to open up his hips and disguise his intentions.

It’s clear that Khokhlachev still has some work to do in terms of adding strength but his hands, vision, creativity and determination around the goal all add up to a potential first line talent.

6. (5) Max Sauve, LW, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 47th overall, 2008

Sauve had a strong season for Providence, scoring 21 goals and 38 points in just 61 games. Had he not suffered a severe wrist injury that cost him two months in the middle of the season, he’d have been a threat for an eye popping 30 goals as a first year pro. His injuries have limited his production and kept him under the radar a bit but make no mistake, Maxime Sauve is a dynamic offensive player, with explosive speed, quick, slick hands, and surprising tenacity.

If Sauve is able to add more muscle and bulk to his frame this summer, expect him to be a serious contender for a roster spot in the fall. He had a good camp last year, and his skill-set and production all suggest real NHL upside. However, having missed 60 games over the last two seasons, his ability to stay healthy is becoming a concern, and the primary reason Sauve isn’t rated higher.

7. (7) Steven Kampfer, D, 6.5B
Acquired via trade with Anaheim, March 2010

If there was an award for ‘surprise player of the year,’ it would go to Steven Kampfer. Though he came to the Bruins organization with no fan fare, Kampfer burst out of the gates for a struggling Providence team, racking up 16 points and a plus-10 rating in his first 22 games. Mobility and offensive flair were much needed attributes on the Boston blue line so Kampfer was called up, and over the course of a few weeks he played his way from spare part all the way up to 20 minutes a night. When he was injured in March, he’d put up 10 points, was a plus-nine and had averaged almost 18 minutes per game through 38 NHL contests.

The ride wasn’t without some bumps along the way, Kampfer was certainly less affective away from Zdeno Chara, and was less effective post- injury. But ultimately it was an impressive debut. The Bruins have added some insurance in veteran blueliner Joe Corvo, whose presence gives the organization a full season to see what they have in Kampfer. Expect him to start the year as the seventh man on Boston’s depth chart and go from there.

8. (8) Matt Bartkowski, D, 6.5
Acquired via trade with Florida, March 2010

Another under-the-radar, low-cost pickup, Bartkowski had such a strong camp that he was the last defenseman cut from the team and even made the trip to Europe to start the year. In Providence, he quickly became the team’s best defenseman, putting up 23 points in 69 games and earning several call-ups to Boston.

The strong, mobile, two-way defenseman projects to be a fifth defenseman down the line. Regardless of his performance in training camp, it will be difficult for Bartkowski to make the NHL roster as the Bruins have six veteran defensemen under contract with Steven Kampfer the likely seventh man.

9. (9) Jamie Arniel, C/W, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 97th overall, 2008

Jamie Arniel showed terrific progress last season in Providence where, over the course of 78 games, he led the team in goals with 23, shots on goal with 262, and points with 50. His leadership and strong play earned him his first NHL call-up, where he fit in well in an energy role on the 4th line.

The son of Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Scott Arniel, Jamie is a gutsy, intelligent, two-way player in the mold of a Chuck Kobasew, who could legitimately compete for an NHL job on the fourth line as early as this fall, but once again, Boston’s depth and veteran presence on the lower lines will make it hard for him to actually crack the roster. One final season in the AHL to continue polishing his offensive game should make it impossible to keep him out of the show in 2012.

10. (16) Tommy Cross, D, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 35th overall, 2007

Tommy Cross took his game to new heights last season. He’d always been a stout defensive defenseman, capable of playing against top lines, but for the first time in his three year career at BC, he began to assert himself offensively as well. He scored clutch goals and had big offensive games at key times including a monster Beanpot that saw him net the OT game winner in the preliminary round and then pick up three points in the championship game.

For Cross’s 2011-12 season he will have to not only build on his two-way game but must remain healthy.

11. (11) David Warsofsky, D, 6.5C
Acquired via trade with St. Louis, June 2010

When on his game, Warsofsky controls and pushes the pace. He’s a strong puck-handler and outstanding skater who possesses a big shot for a small guy. He is also a deft passer who can distribute the puck with aplomb. That all said, he has a penchant for getting lost in his own zone and his slight size is an obvious physical impediment.

Warsofsky has the skill and pedigree to be a second pair, offensive defenseman, but overcoming his size is going to be a major challenge. Warsofsky’s made a career out of overcoming the odds and the Bruins will give him every opportunity to realize his potential.

Expect him to play big minutes and fill a big role for Providence this season.

12. (15) Colby Cohen, D, 6.5C
Acquired via trade with Colorado, November 2010

Cohen is one of the few big, offensive-minded defensemen in the Bruins stable. At 6’2 and 200lbs he has the size to make life difficult on the opposition in the corners and in front of the net. Though he’s not a big hitter, he does use his size to engage in battles and will fight to defend teammates. His biggest strengths however lie in his offensive game where he sees the ice well, moves the puck smartly, and integrates himself into the attack well. He also boasts a booming one-timer that he unloads from his off-hand.

Though that talent and upside were obvious during his first pro season, holes in his defensive game were exposed and he struggled to produce offensively for a low scoring team. He also battled injury and consistency issues.

Cohen is expected to play a big role in Providence this season, where a revamped roster and the addition of former linemate and BU Terrier David Warsofsky should help bring out the best in his game.

13. (12) Ryan Button, D, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 86th overall, 2009

Button remains an enigma. He’s consistently one of the best defensemen at Boston’s summer development camps where he routinely flashes outstanding hands, vision and offensive creativity only to return to his junior teams and go back to playing a conservative, defense-first style. Last season marked his third consecutive 35 point season, and despite playing for two different teams, his points per game remained constant. Button finished the season in Providence where he picked up one assist in seven games.

The holes in his defensive game will be the focus for him and the Providence coaching staff for the coming season. Button is still considered a project at this point but has the skill to suggest he could develop into a solid, top-four defenseman.

14. (19) Michael Hutchinson, G, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 77th overall, 2008

Hutchinson experienced a trial by fire last year. Pre-season expectations were that he might go back to junior for an overage season or start out playing in the ECHL, but Hutch outplayed every goalie in camp vying for spots in the system and earned his place on Providence’s roster. While in Providence he had moments of brilliance followed by bouts of inconsistency, a problem that’s plagued him his whole career. By year’s end he’d put up a .904 save percentage over 28 games in the AHL and a .918 over 18 games in the ECHL.

At this summer’s development camp Hutchinson was outstanding, dominating games with his quick reflexes and athleticism and showed his toughness holding his ground against an onslaught of Jared Knight net crashes.

Hutchinson has NHL talent but whether or not he can find a level of consistency in his game will determine whether he makes it as a backup or someone with starting potential. For his immediate future, he’s expected to continue refining his game as the backup to Anton Khudobin in Providence.

15. (18) Craig Cunningham, C/W, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 97th overall, 2010

A coachable, intelligent, hard-working prospect who’s flown under the radar in Boston, Craig Cunningham is coming off another prolific scoring season where he captained the Vancouver Giants (until a deadline day trade saw him moved to Portland). Over the course of his five year junior career, the Memorial Cup champion has played in 79 playoff games, racking up 63 points including back-to-back point-per-game or better post-season runs. And all that playoff experience could make for a smoother transition from junior to the pro game.

Cunningham is expected to play in Providence and the fact that he can play a gritty defensive game as well as an up-tempo offensive game gives him a lot of versatility so it will be interesting to see how the coaching staff in Providence uses him this season.

16. (NR) Anthony Camara, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 81st overall, 2011

Camara was something of a surprise pick in the third round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Most had him pegged as a pugilist but Camara has legitimate skating and stick-handling skills which suggest he could contribute more on the offensive end of the ice.

When projecting Camara’s upside, it’s tempting to think about another so-called reach the Bruins made when they selected pugilist Milan Lucic at the end of the second round, but Lucic experienced exponential growth as a player after his draft year and Camara has a long way to go to follow in those footsteps. For now, the more appropriate comparable would be Chris Neil.

Camara will return to his junior team in September where his coaches are expecting a 20 goal season from him.

17. (NR) Carter Camper, C, 7.0D
Signed as a free agent, April 2011

Carter Camper is an undrafted, undersized offensive forward with slick hands and an outstanding mind for the game. He’s coming off a four year stint at Miami of Ohio where he surpassed 41 points in each and every season and finished last year with 19 goals and 57 points in 39 games, a CCHA First Team All-Star berth and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker. When his season concluded he reported to Providence where he put up a goal and an assist in three games, looking dangerous on almost every shift.

Unfortunately, Camper was unable to compete at development camp because of off-season surgery, but he is expected to be ready for the season. It’s hard to know just what kind of pro Camper will be or how high he could project. The reason he went undrafted is because he doesn’t have the speed or dynamic skating ability that most undersized players need to be successful pros. But in the games he played in Providence he found a way to be elusive through clever stick-handling and sharp anticipation of the play.

Camper is expected to start out as a top-six forward in Providence this season, and build on his strong finish last season.

18. (10) Zach Hamill, C, 7.0D
Drafted 1st round, 8th overall, 2007

In this his fourth pro season, Zach Hamill must step up and become a consistent scoring threat at the AHL level and re-establish himself as a viable NHL option. Last year he had stretches of strong games but lacked consistency.

Working against Hamill is a lack of size, strength, and average skating. He is a solid two-way player but he lacks high-end puckhandling skills and doesn’t shoot enough.

The coaching staff in Providence have openly discussed different ideas to jumpstart Hamill’s offense, including taking him out of his natural center position and moving him to wing. Considering the Bruins center depth at the NHL level, a move to the wing would benefit him regardless.

19. (NR) Brian Ferlin, RW, 7.0D
Drafted 4th round, 121st overall, 2011

The Bruins may have found a diamond in the rough in late bloomer, Brian Ferlin. Growing up in Florida, Ferlin flew under the radar of most scouts. Though once he started playing high level hockey, his game took off. This past season, he finished third in USHL scoring with Indiana recording 25 goals and 73 points in just 55 games. At Boston’s development camp he had a standout performance on a line with Ryan Spooner, showing off better skating than advertised, a nice hitting game, and excellent feel for his offensive options.

At the US World Junior camp in Lake Placid he continued to impress, playing a robust game and consistently chipping in offensively. Ferlin outscored prized prospect Jared Knight and outlasted some big names and high-end prospects like Tyler Biggs (TOR). It’s unclear whether or not he’ll get the call in December to go to Edmonton with the US squad but he survived every cut and the US coaches praised him for his energetic two-way game.

Ferlin’s immediate future takes him to Cornell, but given the rate he’s progressing it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him turn pro in a year or two. Adding a big, powerful winger with top-six skills fills a much needed hole in the Bruins prospect pool.

20. (14) Maxim Chudinov, D, 7.0D
Drafted 7th round, 195th overall, 2010

Chudinov is an undersized but tough, two-way defenseman who had a strong season for Severstal of the KHL last year, playing in all situations. He also brings a solid offensive game. In 52 games, he managed 23 points which ranked 21st in the league among defensemen.

As it stands, Chudinov plans to spend at least one more season in Russia. After that, his KHL contract is up and the Bruins hope they can convince him to cross the ocean.