Bruins European prospects season review

By Janine Pilkington

The Boston Bruins have drafted a number of highly promising European players in recent years, with the likes of Hannu Toivonen, Petr Kalus and Milan Jurcina, among others, who have thrived since they began playing on North American soil. For those who remain in Europe, however, the overwhelming majority appear to be a stretch to ever don the spoked B. With the exception of a handful of recent draft picks, these are the players that have returned to European rosters following mediocre performances in America, those who haven’t attracted enough attention to make the jump, or players who simply, for whatever reason, have performed well but chosen to remain in their native country.

The 2005 draft highlighted a number of talented forwards, something that Boston sorely needed in their prospect system. Of the four European forwards drafted that year, two remain overseas.
Mikko Lehtonen, the 6’3 191 lb right wing from Finland, was the Bruins’ third round choice in the 2005 draft. Lehtonen once again split the season between the Finland Junior-A level and the elite league for the Espoo Blues. He put up respectable numbers at the junior level, collecting a total of seven points (3 goals, 4 assists) in 15 games, but he failed to make a significant impact at the elite level. In 25 games with the SM-Liga, Lehtonen scored four goals and had no assists. Lehtonen also represented Finland in the WJC, finishing with an assist and two penalty minutes in seven games.

Vladimir Sobotka, the Bruins’ fourth round pick from the Czech Republic, spent his first full season in the Czech Extralia with HC Slavia Praha. Sobotka is on the small side, but brings a combination of raw skill and fearlessness to the ice to make up for it. The young Czech is all potential, but so far has been unable to produce at the elite level. He played 33 regular season games with Slavia, and finished with a total of 10 points (1 goal, 9 assists), +9 and 28 penalty minutes. Sobotka also represented the Czech Republic in the WJC, collecting a total of four points (2 goals, 2 assists) and 33 penalty minutes in six games.

Martin Samuelsson was a highly-touted first round draft pick in 2000, a smooth-skating wing with a natural scoring touch that made his North American debut during the 2002-03 season. Unfortunately Samuelsson would encounter injury problems that stalled his progress, and he would never really have that breakout season that many predicted. Samuelsson returned to his native Sweden in 2005 after three seasons in the US, where he spent time with both Providence and Boston. While in Sweden, he played for Linkopings HC, and in 44 games he totaled seven points (3 goals, 4 assists) and 45 penalty minutes in the 2005-06 season.

Russian left wing Vladislav Evseev is another highly-skilled forward who has yet to live up to expectations. Picked in the second round of the 2002 draft, he has moved around a number of times in recent years, and missed a number of games with injury. Evseev was able to stick to the Russian Super League for the 2005-06 season, where he played 30 games with the Severstal Cherepovets, and scored a total of three goals. The other Russian prospect, Dmitri Utkin, also appears to be a longshot ever to make the NHL. Taken in the seventh round of the 2002 draft, Utkin was billed as a combination of speed and skill that would make him a scoring threat. In recent seasons, he has played in Belarus and Latvia, along with Russia and put up respectable numbers. During the 2005-06 season, he played for Spartak Moskva of the Russian Super League, posting four points (1 goal, 3 assists) in 33 games. His progress has been on the slow side, and while he’s still young, he doesn’t appear to be in the Bruins’ immediate plans.

Marcel Rodman played a couple seasons with the Peterborough Petes (OHL) before he headed back to Europe, and now, three seasons later, it looks like that’s where he’ll stay. The ninth rounder from 2002 spent the 2005-06 season with EC Graz, where he put up a total of 24 points (7 goals, 17 assists) and 32 penalty minutes in 43 games. While the native Slovenian has posted decent numbers since joining the Austrian League, he doesn’t appear to be in the Bruins’ future plans. Jan Kubista, a fourth round pick from 2002, has spent the previous seasons playing at various levels in the Czech Republic. He began the 2005-06 season with HC Vrchlabi, where he played a total of seven games, picking up only an assist before he was traded to HC Benatky nad Jizerou. There, he totaled 18 points (7 goals, 11 assists) in 20 games.

The Bruins have two defensemen playing in Europe, both from the 2000 draft. The most notable is top draft pick Lars Jonsson, whom the Bruins have yet to lure away from his native Sweden. Jonsson is growing into a solid offensive defenseman as well as putting together some decent numbers in the Swedish Elite League. He played the 2005-06 season with HV 71, and compiled 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists), 26 penalty minutes and a +7 in 50 games. Jonsson’s skating ability would be a good fit for the speed of the “new” NHL, but at this point, it seems doubtful he will ever cross the ocean. Tuukka Makela was the Bruins’ third round draft pick in 2000. After four seasons with HPK Hameenlinna in Finland’s elite league, Makela joined Lukko Rauma for the 2005-06 season. The 6’3 202 lb defender compiled three points and 72 penalty minutes in 34 games. Both defensemen round out what was a very disappointing draft year for the Bruins.

Boston’s only goaltender currently playing in Europe is BC alum Matti Kaltiainen. While Kaltiainen had a strong college career with Boston College, he returned to his native Finland to play for the Espoo Blues during the 2005-06 season. He made 15 starts with a 2.32 goals against and .920 percentage. Kaltiainen is undoubtedly near the end of his tenure in the Bruins system.

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