The early days of the Claude Julien era in Boston were highlighted by a wave of young players breaking into the lineup, a group headlined by the likes of Brad Marchand, Johnny Boychuk, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, and Adam McQuaid. The group was instrumental in the Bruins winning the 2011 Stanley Cup.
While hopes of the 35-pound trophy returning to Causeway Street anytime soon remain dull amongst the majority of the Bruins fanbase, that next wave of prospects making an impact is underway. A majority of those prospects could see big minutes as early as next season, with an offseason roster overhaul anticipated on the heels of the Bruins missing the playoffs for a second consecutive season.
20. (NR) Noel Acciari, C, 5.5C
Signed as an undrafted free agent, 2015
Acciari, signed by the Bruins after helping Providence to a national championship in 2015, was a late-season call-up by the Bruins. While he had just one point in 19 games, he showed potential of being a solid bottom-six presence and likely projects as a fourth line center. That could prove to be a boon for Boston, as the bottom-six forwards have been among the team’s biggest weaknesses.
19. (8) Alex Khoklachev, C, 7.0D
Drafted: 2nd round, 40th overall, 2011
Is his NHL sample too small? Sure. The fact of the matter is he hasn’t done enough at the NHL level to warrant a permanent stay.
However, the Russian had his best season at the AHL level in 2015-16, with 68 points in 60 games for Providence, looking more like the player who put up 57 in 65 in his first full AHL season of 2013-14. With the Bruins roster potentially in a position to add young blood in 2016-17, it will be put up or shut up time for the 22-year-old, who in past months has vented his frustration with his opportunities at the NHL level. However, it’s looking like Khoklachev might sign in Russia.
18. (NR) Anders Bjork, LW, 6.0C
Drafted: 5th round, 146th overall, 2014
Bjork led Notre Dame with 35 points in 35 games, garnering All-Hockey East second-team honors as the Irish qualified for the NCAA tournament for the third time in four years. The 19 year old played for Team USA in the 2016 World Junior Championships, scoring three goals in seven games.
Bjork is strong in all three zones, and while he doesn’t have any plus-skill, he is an above-average skater with a good shot. He projects likely as a second or third line forward.
Call it a case of exposure at the highest level. Regardless, Morrow spent the entire season at the varsity level in 2015-16, and hurt his stock with his inability to crack the lineup in what was an incredibly suspect Bruins defensive corps. Morrow was a healthy scratch in 41 of the Bruins 82 games this season.
An offensively gifted defenseman who put up elite numbers at every level prior to the NHL, Morrow currently looks like nothing more than a third-pairing defenseman.
16. (14) Ryan Fitzgerald, C, 6.5C
Drafted: 4th round, 120th overall, 2013
Fitzgerald enjoyed his best season as a junior, leading BC in scoring and earning All-Hockey East first-team honors as the Eagles qualified for the Frozen Four for the second time in the forward’s three seasons in Chestnut Hill.
The 21 year old put up his best numbers skating alongside Colin White, a 2015 first-round pick by Ottawa who was among college hockey’s premier playmakers this season. While undersized, Fitzgerald is incredibly skilled and has a knack for finding the net.
15. (13) Matt Grzelcyk, D, 6.5C
Drafted: 3rd round, 8th overall, 2012
Grzelcyk signed an entry-level contract with the Bruins earlier this month after four years at BU. A skilled, mobile defenseman, Grzelcyk’s greatest attribute is his leadership qualities and ability to make guys around him better.
A two-time All-American, Grzelcyk played a key role in the Terriers run to the national championship game in 2015. In addition to his lack of size, the 22 year old has an injury history. While he played all 41 games his junior season, he missed a combined 28 games (of 74) his sophomore and senior seasons due to knee and shoulder injuries.
14. (NR) Rob O’Gara, D, 6.5C
Drafted: 5th round, 151st overall, 2011
A big, strong, physical defensive defenseman that projects to a top-four role, O’Gara represents an area not of surplus among Bruins prospects at the moment: a player who can be relied upon in high-leverage situations like penalty killing and end-zone plays, but can contribute offensively as well. The 6-foot-4, 215 pound blueliner resembles former Bruin and current New York Islander Johnny Boychuk.
O’Gara signed an entry-level contract with the Bruins after playing four seasons at Yale. He was named the ECAC’s Defensive Player of the Year his last two seasons while being named an All-American.
13. (11) Danton Heinen, C, 7.0C
Drafted: 4th round, 116th overall, 2014
Heinen accounted for one-third of Denver’s ‘Pacific Rim’ line, skating alongside Dylan Gambrell and Trevor Moore as the Pioneers were one of college hockey’s best teams in the second half of the season. Heinen led the scoring for Denver, which closed the regular season on a 14-1-3 run before making its first Frozen Four appearance in 11 years.
Heinen, who signed his entry-level deal with the Bruins after two successful seasons in Denver, is a natural goal scorer, which could expedite his ascent through the ranks of the Bruins system. Heinen is likely one or two years from making an impact in Boston.
12. (NR) Jesse Gabrielle, LW, 7.0C
Drafted: 4th round, 105th overall, 2015
Gabrielle’s game is what Bruins fans dreams are made of. A player with a good deal of skill but his stature nothing of note, Gabrielle plays with an edge and has a knack of getting under the skin of opponents. The scrappy winger broke out in 2015-16 with 40 goals and 75 points in 72 games for Prince George (WHL). He had scored just 35 goals in his first two seasons in the WHL.
11. (5) Seth Griffith, RW, 7.0C
Drafted: 5th round, 131st overall, 2012
Griffith has emerged as a force in the AHL in his third professional season. He finished second in the league with 77 points, while his 53 assists was tops in the AHL. Following a 2014-15 season in which Griffith shuttled between Boston and Providence, limiting him to 39 AHL games, he has spent virtually the entire season in the AHL, and has flourished.
Undersized, but with skill and great hockey sense, Griffith showed flashes of his potential in his time with Boston in 2014-15. But he needs to show more to warrant an extended stay. He will get that chance next season.