Cub Report: Boston’s Top Prospects

By pbadmin

Eric Nickulas C 5-11 190 24

98-99 Prov 67 27 25 52 79 (AHL)
98-99 BOS 2 0 0 0 0 (NHL)

Strengths- Hands, Hockey Sense
Weaknesses- Inexperience, 2-way Play.
Eric Nickulas has been an important contributor to the success of the AHL’s number one team. Nickulas has always been a gifted goal scorer at every level he has played, and the AHL has been no exception. He has made his mark on the power play, where he has 14 tallies with the man-advantage. Nickulas doesn’t seem to possess much speed, but he is a deceptive skater who has the ability to get open in close, where he does the most damage. Not the most diligent of back-checkers, he will need to sharpen his skills if he wants a regular shift in Boston.

Nickulas has the tools to make it to the NHL, but Boston has quite a few players with similar attributes. Between Randy Robitaille, Shawn Bates and Andre Savage, Nickulas will need to continue to put the puck in the net if he is to get another shot in the NHL after a limited audition for 2 games in December.

Projection at NHL level- 3rd-line Winger.
Current Stock Status- On the Rise

John Grahame G 6-2 210 23

98-99 Prov 41 32 7 1 2.79 .900 (AHL)

Strengths- Mobility, Athleticism, Mental Game.
Weaknesses- Rebound control, Focus.
Jim Carey’s contract buy-out has given John Grahame the chance to take control of the goaltending situation in Providence. With a rotation system in place before, Grahame can now expect to handle the bulk of the Baby Bruins’ chores in net. It was a very successful February for Grahame as he was named the “AHL Goaltender of the Month”. In addition to the accolades, Grahame has established the AHL record for most-consecutive victories with 19.

Grahame has also set the Providence mark for wins with 32 and counting, besting the old mark of 25 held by Scott Bailey. With expansion looming, there is a good chance that Robbie Tallas could leave Boston opening the door for Grahame as the Bruins’ back-up next season. The job won’t be handed to him, though. Grahame needs to make a serious pitch for the job with a strong performance in net for Providence down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Projection for NHL Level- Number two goalie.
Current stock status- On the rise.

Randy Robitaille C 5-11 190 23

98-99 Prov 67 24 66 90 24 (AHL)
98-99 BOS 4 0 2 2 0 (NHL)

Strengths- Passing, Skating.
Weaknesses- Size, Durability.
Randy Robitaille knows that playing on the AHL’s top team can have its benefits and he has made the most of it, leading the League in scoring at the beginning of March. Robitaille is a slick playmaker and it shows in his statistics, as he has amassed 66 helpers in 67 games. He had a strong 4 game call-up in late February, picking up 2 assists and showing an ability to play well in the NHL. The big question mark with Robitaille in his young career has been his durability.

48 seconds into his first NHL shift in 1996-97, he was lost for the rest of the year with a shoulder separation. Last season, he broke his leg and played only half the year. When he is healthy, he is an offensive dynamo who has the ability to control the tempo out on the ice. Whether he can translate this success in the AHL to the NHL still remians to be seen, but the signs are promising.

Projection for NHL Level- Third line center.
Current Stock Status- On the rise.

Shawn Bates C 5-11 204 23

98-99 Prov 36 25 20 45 37 (AHL)
98-99 BOS 26 3 4 7 2 (NHL)

Strengths- Skating(Speed), Hockey sense.
Weaknesses- Strength, Hands.
When you look at Shawn Bates’ speed on the ice, you immediately think, “Why isn’t this guy in the NHL?” If speed was all you needed, he would be, but Bates has to round-out his game. He has proven himself to be a scorer at the collegiate and minor pro level, but hasn’t been enough of a factor in limited stints with Boston in 2 seasons to warrant a full-time job in the NHL. That said, Bates definitely has a chance to stick because he combines speed with good hockey sense. Bates sees the ice well and is able to make something happen out of nothing.

Unfortunately for Bates, he doesn’t have the strength to be much of a factor in the trenches, making it tough for him to crack the line-up of a Pat Burns-coached team. Bates has done very well in Providence and his confidence grows with each game on the farm. If he continues to show a strong work ethic, he’ll get another chance in Boston. In the meantime, Providence is happy to have his offense. Bates was recently called up while Bruins winger Dmitri Khristich is out with a shoulder injury.

Projection for NHL Level- 4th-line checking center/winger
Current stock status- Middle-of-the-road.

Andre Savage C/RW 6-0 195 23

98-99 Prov 58 25 36 61 50 (AHL)
98-99 BOS 6 1 0 1 0 (NHL)

Strengths- Shooting accuracy, Skating.
Andre Savage’s stock as a Bruins prospect has soared during a highly-successful rookie professional season mostly spent with Providence. Savage has established a reputation as a sniper, and has made the most of his chances. Named as the AHL’s Rookie of the Month for December, Savage spent 6 games in January with the Boston, notching his 1st NHL goal on Martin Luther King Day against the Predators. He surprised a lot of folks during the AHL All-Star Game Skills Competition when he won the accuracy portion, knocking down all 4 targets on only 5 shots.

In Providence, Savage has shown a nose for the net and is not afraid to play the body, but he needs to get stronger. Playing on a team as balanced and successful as Providence has done wonders for the rookie’s confidence and he will no doubt be a major factor in the Baby Bruins’ stretch drive.

Projection at NHL level- Second or Third line winger.
Current Stock Status- On the rise.

Brandon Smith D 6-1 196 26

98-99 Prov65 15 40 55 28 (AHL)
98-99 BOS 4 0 0 0 0 (NHL)

Strengths- 2-way defense, Speed
Weaknesses- Doesn’t use size, Age.
Brandon Smith was not expected to contribute much when Boston signed him as a free agent in the off-season, but a superb year in Providence, combined with injuries to Boston defensemen, has allowed Smith to see his 1st NHL action. Smith was a successful 2-way defenseman with Portland of the WHL and has enjoyed a solid if unspectacular career in the AHL since he turned pro in 1994. Age has become a factor for Smith. At age 26, he is old for a prospect and will need to make a strong case to stay in the NHL.

With younger defensemen in the Boston system, chances of him beating out a Darren Van Impe or Mattias Timander for playing time is slim. Smith is a hard-worker and has done very well in the minors, but will probably not be given much of a chance in Boston. Brandon Smith seems destined to be an NHL journeyman, but with 3 new teams joining the League in the next couple of years, he could get a better opportunity in a different organization.

Projection at NHL level- 7th/8th defenseman
Current Stock Status- On the decline.

Antti Laaksonen LW 6-0 180 25

98-99 Prov 59 22 31 53 46 (AHL)
98-99 BOS 11 1 2 3 0 (NHL)

Strengths-Speed, 2-way play.
Weaknesses-Size, Strength.
Antti Laaksonen has impressed many this season with an excellent campaign with Providence in which he has led the AHL in +/- with a +34 rating over 59 games. Using his speed and hockey smarts, Laaksonen plays within his limitations and has shown a penchant for coming up with the big goal or play for Providence all season long. As a 25 year-old, Laaksonen is a bit behind the power curve, as Boston has more than a few young players at forward all vying for the chance to play with the big club.

Like defenseman Brandon Smith, Laaksonen’s best shot may be with expansion, but in the meantime, Antti provides Boston with some depth and versatility for various situations. He could very well see more action in Boston if he continues his solid work on the farm, but will need to score points to remain in Boston.

Projection at NHL level- Checking winger.
Current Stock Status- Middle-of-the-road.

Jonathan Girard D 5-11 200 18

98-99 Bathurst 46 8 53 61 58 (QMJHL)

Strengths- Skating, Shooting accuracy.
Weaknesses- Defensive reads, Size.
Jonathan Girard plays for the potent Acadie-Bathurst and would lead Titan defensemen in scoring if not for missing games while playing in Boston and because of injuries. Girard is a very gifted skater and could become an outstanding offensive defenseman in the NHL. Size is a question, but at close to 6′ and weighing in at about 200 pounds, Girard should be able to play. Girard could stand to improve his defensive play and reads, but could still make the Bruins line-up on the strength of his other well-developed skills.

Boston would like him see action with the big club in time to benefit from the tutelage of Raymond Bourque. If Girard’s offensive instincts can translate into success the NHL, Boston could have a terrific nucleus of 4 young defeseman in Girard, Kyle McLaren, Hal Gill and Darren Van Impe. Boston clearly believes that it got a much better player than the 48th slot would suggest, but time will tell whether Girard can develop into a solid contributor at the NHL level. He may need some seasoning on the farm, first.

Projection at NHL Level- Offensive defenseman/Power play quarterback.
Current Stock Status- On the rise.