Bruins well-represented at WJCs

By Shane Walsh
There will be some very exciting Bruins hockey to watch for a change after Christmas. This brand of excitement, however, will not be coming from the Fleet Center. For the first time since 1996-97, the Bruins will have decent prospect representation at the 2000-2001 World Junior Hockey Championships in Russia. Representing the Bruins will be 2000 draftees: Andy Hilbert, Brett Nowak, Lars Jonsson, and Martin Samuelsson.

Andy Hilbert was the first North American player selected by the Boston Bruins in the 2000 NHL Draft last June when they selected him in the second round. Hilbert is a two-way center that agitates opponents with his feisty style of play. He is a strong, well-balanced skater with a low center of gravity and is often compared with Chris Drury of the Colorado Avalanche. With former teammate Mike Comrie defecting to the WHL, Hilbert has stepped up to lead the Michigan Wolverine’s this season.

“With Mikey gone, we’ve really had to pick up the slack,” said Hilbert in an exclusive interview. “I’m starting to feel comfortable now and the guys have done a good job coming together. It’s really tough when you lose a guy like Mikey, but these things happen. The experience has really brought the team closer together. We’re maximizing our chances and we’ll get the opportunity to do something special if we continue to play the way we have.”

Hilbert played a checking role for the US at last year’s World Junior Hockey Championship. With his impressive early numbers with Michigan this season, he would love the opportunity to play on the top two scoring lines.

One of Hilbert’s line-mates at the 1999-2000 tournament was also selected by the Boston Bruins at the NHL draft in Calgary last June. The Bruins with their 7th pick, 103rd overall, selected Brett Nowak, the 6-2, 200 pound forward from New Haven, CT. Like Hilbert, Nowak plays a solid two-way game. He has excellent hockey sense and a willingness to play physically. He had a disappointing season last year as a freshman for Harvard mainly due to injury. The shoulder that plagued his past is fully healed and he’s excited to be representing the US at the World Championships.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in the weight room getting prepared,” said Nowak. “The doctors said my shoulder healed nicely, and the extra conditioning I’ve been doing has really paid off. I think my play has gotten stronger, and the shoulder seems to be holding up just fine.”

“I’m really excited,” said Nowak when asked about representing his country for a second time at the World Junior Hockey Championships.

When the Boston Bruins stepped up to the podium to announce their first selection of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, many were shocked with the announcement of Lars Jonsson. Many NHL scouts believe that Jonsson is a huge risk, while other scouts believe he’s the closest thing to Sandis Ozolinsh playing outside the NHL. For the Boston Bruins, they are hoping the latter. Jonsson is several years away from competing for a job within the Bruins organization. He’s an excellent skater with great mobility and offensive instincts. He is not afraid of rushing the puck and will effectively quarterback the powerplay for team Sweden at the 2000-2001 World Junior Championships. The biggest knock on Jonsson comes from his inconsistent play in his own zone. According to Bruins General Manager Mike O’Connell, this is not a big issue.

“You can teach a player with skills like Jonsson to play defensively. What you cannot do is the opposite. We had our lists of what players we wanted (at the draft) and Jonsson was still available so we didn’t pass up on him.”

Bruins fans would be irate to here the news that Ulf Samuelsson was a Boston Bruin. The rearguard is easily the most hated player in Boston for his deliberate cheap shot that prematurely ended the career of Cam Neely. Fortunately though, at the NHL entry draft, the Bruins selected Martin Samuelsson with the 27th pick they acquired in the Ray Bourque deal from Colorado.

The 6’2” 190 lbs. winger sustained a broken shoulder that resulted him to miss most of last season. When he returned to play, he demonstrated why he was considered a top 10 draft pick. Samuelsson is a powerful skater with terrific speed and acceleration. He has a good work ethic and dominates play along the boards. He is a creative playmaker, and reminds some of Mats Sundin. He is blessed with soft hands, which he uses to make tape to tape passes to his teammates.

It is expected that Samuelsson will be seen in a Bruins uniform as early as 2002-2003. Until then, Bruins fans will be able to watch him at the World Juniour Championships in Russia as he represents his native Sweden on the top scoring line.