Bruins AHL prospects update

By Kristy Gleason

Eighteen games into the 2003-04 season, the Providence Bruins have a fairly solid record (8-6-4-0) in the standings. They are currently ranked third in the AHL’s Atlantic Division standings, three points behind the division leaders (Manchester Monarchs and Hartford Wolf Pack). They have an impressive group of prospects who are helping keep the team above the .500 mark in an assortment of ways.

Former University of Michigan standout center Andy Hilbert, who has been among the leading scorers for the P-Bruins the past two seasons, has been on the shelf since early on in Boston’s training camp as he deals with a lingering groin injury. It was hoped that this would be his breakout year in the Bruins organization, but it appears that everyone is going to have to wait a little longer to see if Andy has what it takes to make it in the show.

Pat Leahy, drafted 122nd overall by the New York Rangers in 1998, never came to terms with the team that selected him. This is his second season with the Providence Bruins, and the right wing is currently leading the team in goals, and is second on the team in overall points. He has good size, and isn’t afraid to use it when warranted, and his puck-handling skills are above average as well.

Defenseman Zdenek Kutlak showed some timely offensive flair for the Providence Bruins last season. When he arrived at training camp this past September, it was like watching a totally different individual. His defense has improved dramatically, and he plays much more confidently than in seasons past. His well-rounded play in the first part of the regular season granted him a call up to Boston. He’s yet to hit the ice for an NHL game this year, but when he does, it’s with hope that he’ll continue playing in the same vein as when he was in Providence.

Former University of Maine rearguard Peter Metcalf has had a bit of a rollercoaster ride throughout his two years as a professional hockey player. After being a rock for the University of Maine Black Bears throughout his four years there, he spent portions of last season and this season toiling in the ECHL. He appears, however, to have solidified a spot for himself on Providence’s blueline for the time being. He leads the team with a +5 rating, and is the current leader for active roster defensemen in scoring with six points.

Defenseman Kevin Dallman put up some pretty impressive numbers as a defensemen for the Guelph Storm in his four years there. He went undrafted, however, and signed with the Bruins as a free agent in the summer of 2002. While his offensive output at the AHL level is a mere shadow of what it was in Guelph, he provides some stability on the blueline, doing nothing spectacularly, but maintaining an even keel regardless of the situation in which he’s playing.

Center Kris Vernarsky was originally drafted 51st overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2000 draft. He was traded to the Bruins in exchange for journeyman defenseman Richard Jackman two years ago. The 21-year-old has the potential to grow into a decent faceoff man, who isn’t afraid to give and take the body and play a good two-way game.

Hulking Slovakian defenseman Milan Jurcina surprised a lot of people at training camp this past September. Not so much in his ability, but in size. Last fall, he was a very lanky 18-year-old who needed time to grow into his 6’4″ frame this year. With legs like tree trunks, and his upper body broad and sturdy, he has the ability to play with an edge when he wants to, and doesn’t hold back from punishing opposing players in front of the net.

Bruising winger Colton Orr (no relation to Bruins legend Bobby) has found his niche, as was foretold by anyone who saw him play in juniors. He doesn’t possess an overabundance of skill, but his pugilistic ability occasionally comes to the fore when confronted by an opposing but usually willing combatant.

Right winger Mike Gellard‘s professional career was put on hold for a full season after he graduated from St. Lawrence University in 2001. He was diagnosed with colitis a few days before he was set to attend his first pro training camp. He lost nearly 60 lbs. before the viral infection could be overcome, and was unable to play for the entire 2001-02 season. He regained his health, however, and was a steady contributor for the P-Bruins last season. It appears that there are no lingering effects from the disease, and he is on course for another favorable season.

Drafted 19th overall by the Boston Bruins in the 2001 draft, expectations were high for defenseman Shaone Morrisonn to make an impact a few years down the road. After a pretty solid rookie season, where he played mostly in Providence, but saw action in 11 games for Boston, it was somewhat surprising that he was assigned to Providence so early on in training camp this past September. His play was a bit scattered during the first several weeks of the regular season, but he appears to be coming into his stride the past couple weeks.

The Swede that plays with an edge, Martin Samuelsson, has been nursing a nagging injury that’s kept him out of all but seven games thus far this season. When healthy, his speed, ability to move well in traffic, and fearlessness along the boards benefits his team. The left winger is the energizer bunny on whichever line he plays on, and once he’s back in the line-up, there’s no doubt he’ll start going (and going, and going) strong.

With their 29th overall pick in the 2002 draft, the Boston Bruins selected goaltender Hannu Toivonen. Many observers were a bit surprised by the pick at the time. He signed his first professional contract over this past summer, and has made a huge impact with and for his team while splitting netminding duties with veteran Tim Thomas. Toivonen plays a pure butterfly style, and he easily takes away a great deal of the net with his 6’2″ frame. His quick reflexes demonstrate only one of the many reasons the Boston Bruins picked him out where they did in the draft. He has been dubbed the Bruins ‘goalie of the future’. Based on his play both during the preseason, as well as during the regular season, it’s not a stretch to believe that moniker is completely true.

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