Bruins top 20 prospects

By Janine Pilkington

Bruins Top 20 Prospects

1. (NR) Phil Kessel 8.5C
2. (1) Hannu Toivonen 8.0A
3. (NR) Tuukka Rask 8.0C
4. (3) Mark Stuart 7.5B
5. (4) Matt Lashoff 7.5C
6. (7) Petr Kalus 7.5C
7. (5) Milan Jurcina 7.0B
8. (11) Martins Karsums 7.0B
9. (NR) Yuri Alexandrov 7.5C
10. (8) David Krejci 7.0C
11. (12) Jonathan Sigalet 7.0C
12. (15) Tyler Redenbach 6.5C
13. (11) Ben Walter 6.5C
14. (10) Jordan Sigalet 6.5C
15. (NR) Brad Marchand 6.5C
16. (NR) Vladimir Sobotka 7.0C
17. (13) Matt Hunwick 6.5C
18. (18) Wacey Rabbit 6.5C
19. (20) Kris Versteeg 6.0C
20. (14) Anton Hedman 6.0C

Though Hannu Toivonen has been knocked from his reign as the Bruins’ top prospect by 2006 draftee Phil Kessel, Toivonen is on the cusp of becoming a full time NHL’er and on track to have the rookie season he should have had last year. Coming on his heels is new acquisition Tuukka Rask, another Finnish goaltender with loads of potential who is expected to compete for a job in a couple years. The Bruins parted ways with former first rounder Lars Jonsson, but continue to have a solid group of defensive prospects in the mix, and the crop of forwards looks better than it has in recent years. They boast a top five draft pick in Kessel, some promising free agent acquisitions and a number of players who are ready to begin their pro careers.

1. (NR) Phil Kessel, C Age: 18
Acquired: 1st round, 5th overall (2006) Grade: 8.5C

The Bruins upgraded their forward talent when they selected University of Minnesota center Phil Kessel fifth overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Coming off a strong freshman season with the Gophers, Kessel posted 51 points (18 goals, 33 assists) in 39 games, which was tops among rookies in the nation. Kessel’s college debut, combined with his spectacular performance in the USNTDP and international tournament experience, put the young center in the spotlight, creating expectations and comparisons to other players that were at times unrealistic, or even unfair. The fact is, he’s a skilled forward blessed with a natural scoring ability, strong hockey sense and superior skating, but he’s also very young. If he’s to overcome any question about his value as a player, Kessel will simply have to work harder. He has a bright future and the potential to be a solid top line forward for many years in the NHL.

2. (1) Hannu Toivonen, G Age: 22
Acquired: 1st round, 29th overall (2002) Grade: 8.0A

If Toivonen hadn’t been injured during the 2005-06 season, he would have established himself in the NHL already and no longer be considered a prospect. Last season’s bad luck has only postponed the inevitable. Barring any unforeseen hurdles, Toivonen will be the Bruins starting goaltender for the 2006-07 season. He made his NHL debut during the 2005-06 season, and went from rookie hopeful to starting goaltender when former Calder Cup winner Andrew Raycroft struggled in the net. Always poised and confident, Toivonen has a combination of quick reflexes, flexibility and the ability to make timely saves. He appeared in 20 games with Boston before his season was cut short by an upper ankle injury in early January. In those 20 games he earned a 9-5-4 record with a 2.63 goals against average and .914 percentage. Of Toivonen’s five losses during regulation, four were by a margin of one goal, and seven of his games went to overtime. He faced one shootout which resulted in a loss to the New Jersey Devils. Unfortunately, the team in front of him was one of the worst in the league, and while he often kept them in the game, Toivonen received very little help from his offense. The 22-year-old goaltender was placed on injured reserve in early January and though he appeared to be healed near the end of the season, the Bruins took no chances and officially closed the book on his rookie year.

3. (NR) Tuukka Rask, G Age: 19
Acquired: Trade (2006) Grade: 8.0C

The Bruins added another Finnish goaltender to the mix when they traded Andrew Raycroft to the Maple Leafs for Tuukka Rask on draft day. Though still a couple years away from the NHL, Rask has already attracted attention at an international level. At best, he has the potential to challenge Hannu Toivonen for the starting role, and at the very least, he adds some depth to Boston’s crop of goaltending prospects. Similar to Toivonen on some levels, Rask is best classed as a butterfly-style goaltender that relies on his positioning to make timely saves. He is also blessed with speed and good reflexes, with the ability to stay calm and focused. More often than not, his performance keeps his team in the game. There are some questions about his consistency, and Rask is still less of a sure thing than Toivonen, but he’s also three years younger with less pro experience. He played in 30 games during the 2005-06 season with Ilves Tampere (FIN) with a 12-7-8 record, 2.09 GAA and .926 save percentage. Rask also participated in the 2006 WJC, where he had a 2.11 GAA and .940 save percentage.

4. (3) Mark Stuart, D Age: 22
Acquired: 1st round, 21st overall (2003) Grade: 7.5B

Boston’s top pick from 2003 will likely be ready to play in Boston full time during the 2005-06 season. One of Stuart’s strongest attributes is his willingness to work hard, which made for dramatic progress over the course of the 2005-06 season. He began his pro career in Providence, seeming overwhelmed at first, but by the midpoint of the season, he played with confidence, and became one of the team’s most reliable defenders. Stuart at his best can intimidate opposing players and throw them off their game. He can be a tough physical defender, but also tends to think the game well. While in Providence, Stuart was +4 on the season, with seven points (4 goals, 3 assists) and 76 penalty minutes in 60 games. He was called up to Boston late in the season, where he earned two points (1 goal, 1 assist) and 10 penalty minutes in 17 games. Stuart registered his first assist on March 16 versus Ottawa and his first goal on April 10 versus Washington. One of many promising defenders in Boston’s system, Stuart’s development has been right on track. He has strong leadership skills and the ability to be a reliable second pairing defenseman in the NHL, and possibly more.

5. (4) Matt Lashoff, D Age: 19
Acquired: 1st Round, 22nd overall (2005) Grade: 7.5C

The Bruins were happy enough with Lashoff’s 2005-06 performance to offer him a three-year contract near the end of the season and give him a taste of the pros in Providence. After bouts with illness and injury, Lashoff had a lot riding on the 2005-06 season. He finally had a solid stretch of playing time and pulled off a decent overall season with Kitchener. The Bruins top draft choice played in 56 games where he totaled 47 points (7 goals, 40 assists) and 146 penalty minutes. Lashoff is a smooth-skating playmaker, who is equally adept at creating scoring opportunities as he is responsible in his own end of the ice. Further emphasizing his playmaking abilities is his work on the power play, where he collected 28 of his assists. Lashoff is highly talented and could easily be a top four NHL defenseman, but he is not sure bet either. The 19-year-old has plenty of work ahead of him as he turns pro next season.

6. (7) Petr Kalus, RW Age: 18
Acquired: 2nd Round, 39th overall (2005) Grade: 7.5C

Kalus played his first season in North America with the Regina Pats following the 2005 draft and strong showing at his first training camp with the Bruins. He completed his 60-game season tied as the top scorer for the Pats at 58 total points, and was second in scoring among rookies in the WHL. Kalus was also tops among rookies with 15 power-play goals, and finished ninth in the league for goals scored with 36. The 18-year-old Czech is a slippery skater who is a scoring threat any time he’s on the ice. While he may be a headache for the opposing team’s defenders, his hockey intelligence, drive and natural scoring ability made him a key part of Regina’s offense and a promising future addition to the Bruins lineup. Kalus is advanced enough in his development to make a successful jump to the pros, and could someday play on one of the top two lines in the NHL. Because he is so young, with only one season played in North America, it’s still not a given that he will find success in the pros. It is equally possible, however, that his ceiling is higher than believed. After signing a three-year contract with the Bruins in May of 2006, Kalus will be spending the 2006-07 season either in Providence or Boston.

7. (5) Milan Jurcina, D Age: 22
Acquired: 8th round, 241st overall (2001) Grade: 7.0B

Early in the 2005-06 season, Jurcina bounced back and forth between Boston and Providence, but eventually he settled into a regular roster spot in Boston, where he would average a little over 16 minutes on the ice per game. The late round draft pick from 2001 (8th round, 241 overall) has improved tremendously in the last couple of seasons. A big, sturdy defenseman at 6’4 233 lbs, Jurcina is more of a stay at home defenseman, though he does have a rocket of a shot and some offensive instinct. His play was impressive enough to earn a spot on Team Slovakia in the 2006 Winter Olympics. Team Slovakia remained unbeaten only to lose to the Czech Republic in the quarterfinal match, and Jurcina finished with an assist and eight penalty minutes in six games. After he returned to Boston, Jurcina suffered a shoulder injury during the month of March and missed a number of games. He completed his rookie season at 11 points (6 goals, 5 assists), +3 and 54 penalty minutes in 51 games. With a one-year contract in hand, Jurcina will start the 2006-07 season in Boston and most likely will stay there. Considering where he was drafted, Jurcina is a steal, with solid potential as a second pairing defenseman.

8. (11) Martins Karsums, RW Age: 19
Acquired: 2nd round, 64th overall (2004) Grade: 7.0B

The former second rounder seems to have finally recovered from the nagging ankle injury that limited his playing time to only 30 games in the 2004-05 season, and slowed his return in the 2005-06 season. Karsums bounced back with a 65-point regular season performance in 49 games with the Wildcats (34 goals, 31 assists), and grabbed widespread attention with his 26-point performance in 21 games during the 2006 QMJHL playoffs. The 19-year-old Latvian plays an intense game, with a combination of fearlessness and a nose for the net. Karsums is at once a gritty competitor and a scoring threat. He may need some seasoning in the minors before he is NHL ready, though there is an outside chance he could see some time in Boston in the upcoming season. Karsums has the potential to be a solid contributor on the second line but will likely thrive with whatever role he is given. He was rewarded for his performance with a three-year contract from the Bruins, and is expected to turn pro in the 2006-07 season.

9. (NR) Yuri Alexandrov, D Age: 18
Acquired: 2nd round, 37th overall (2006) Grade: 7.5C

Lanky Russian Yuri Alexandrov was the Bruins’ second pick in the 2006 Entry Draft, a young defenseman playing his first season with the Severstal Cherepovets of the Russian Hockey League. Alexandrov turned heads when he made Russia’s top-tier professional league right out of camp, an impressive feat at the age of 17. Alexandrov played 37 games, with a total of two points (1 goal, 1 assist) and 18 penalty minutes. Despite the fact that he needs to bulk up and continue working on his strength, the young stay at home defenseman has an aggressive style and won’t shy away from contact. He’s an excellent skater who thinks the game well, and can quarterback the power play. His stats don’t necessarily show it, but he also has some offensive ability. One of his greatest qualities is his attitude, and in turn, his outstanding leadership abilities. Alexandrov played for Team Russia in the 2006 U-18 World Juniors, where he served as captain, and finished the tournament with 3 points (1 goal, 2 assists), 10 penalty minutes, and a +7 in six games. He is still a couple years away from the NHL, but he has the potential to be a top four defenseman.

10. (8) David Krejci, C Age: 19
Acquired: 2nd round, 63rd overall (2004) Grade: 7.0C

Despite some injury troubles early on, Krejci came off another outstanding season with the Gatineau Olympiques where he totaled 81 points (27 goals, 54 assists) and 54 penalty minutes in 55 games. He posted 16 power-play goals, five game winners and ranked 13th among all centers in the league. Krejci is a solid all-around player who has quickly developed into a team leader. He served as assistant captain with the Olympiques and was part of the Czech team for the 2006 IIHF U20 World Junior Championship. Though the Czech Republic was unable to finish in the top three, Krejci compiled a total of six points (3 goals, 3 assists) in six games. He also had a strong showing in the QMJHL playoffs, where he was fourth overall with 32 points (10 goals, 22 assists) in 17 games. Krejci signed a three-year deal with the Bruins in May of 2006 and is expected to turn pro in the upcoming season. It is likely he will need to spend time in the minors before he is promoted to Boston.

11. (12) Jonathan Sigalet, D Age: 20
Acquired: 4th round, 100th overall (2005) Grade: 7.0C

The younger of the Sigalet brothers turned pro shortly after he was drafted in 2005 and continued his development with the Providence Bruins in the 2005-06 season. He was put in a number of situations and logged high minutes both as a part of Providence’s formidable blue line and as powerplay quarterback. He completed his rookie season with 59 penalty minutes and was the top scoring defenseman on the team with 36 points (9 goals, 27 assists) in 75 games. Of his nine goals, four came on the power play, two were game-winning, and two were first goals. He was also tied with Providence captain Jay Leach with the highest plus/minus for a defenseman on the team at +12. Sigalet still has a way to go before he is NHL ready, but he does so many things well that it’s hard to see anything but a bright future. He does not yet have much of a physical game, and one of the biggest things for Sigalet continues to be his strength. If he continues to progress in the next couple seasons, Sigalet has the potential to be a top 4 defenseman in the NHL. For now, however, he will continue his development in Providence for the 2006-07 season.

12. (15) Tyler Redenbach, C Age: 21
Acquired: Free Agent (2005) Grade: 7.0C

Redenbach was rewarded with a contract after joining the Bruins training camp as a free agent in the fall of 2005. The former Phoenix draft pick (2003) is a skilled forward who can make things happen anytime he’s on the ice. He capped off a successful rookie season with 58 points (26 goals, 32 assists) in 78 games, and had the highest plus/minus in Providence at +19. Redenbach’s timing and hockey sense are part of what makes him such an exciting player to watch, and he was often the difference maker. He had three game-winning goals, six first goals, and five insurance goals. Additionally, Redenbach had two short-handed and seven power-play goals. He scored his first professional goal during the second game of the season, and would go on to have four multiple-goal games, including a hat trick in April versus the Springfield Falcons. He’s excelled at every level he played, and it’s feasible that Redenbach could go on to be a successful scoring line player in the NHL. Can he build upon a strong rookie season in the AHL and continue his upward progress? Redenbach is not yet a sure thing for the NHL, and the upcoming season will be important in determining whether he can make the jump to an NHL roster or whether he’s found his home in the minors.

13. (11) Ben Walter, C Age: 22
Acquired: 5th round, 160th overall (2004) Grade: 6.5C

Ben Walter attracted enough attention his rookie season to earn a couple brief call-ups in Boston. While little would come of these, Walter displayed the same skill and on-ice vision in Providence that had earned him a Hobey Baker nomination at U-Mass Lowell. Walter is hard-working, focused and an opportunistic player who became a key component on Providence’s power-play unit. He had eight power-play goals, one short-handed and four game-winning goals in 40 total points (16 goals, 23 assists). Walter played 62 regular season games with the Providence Bruins. He does not project to be much more than a third line player with special teams duty in the NHL, but of the forwards who played the 2005-06 season in Providence, he is probably the most polished. He has an outside shot at making the Boston roster in the near future, but will likely continue development in Providence for another season.

14. (10) Jordan Sigalet, G Age: 25
Acquired: 7th round, 209th overall (2001) Grade: 6.5C

Sigalet struggled at times, but had a decent overall rookie season. He stopped 744 of 827 shots, for 2.55 goals against average and .900 save percentage. Sigalet appeared in 37 games, with a total of 1955 minutes of ice time and a 19-11-2 record during the regular season. A tremendous athlete, Sigalet appeared unaffected by his MS when he was on the ice. He had the endurance to complete the majority of his starts, with the exception of a game in January, and a pair in February where he seemed to get rattled and was pulled early in the game. How will his health affect his future as a professional hockey player? While Sigalet is young and has thus far done a tremendous job managing his disease, it is too soon to tell how far he will take his career. Should he continue his development and show improvement in Providence, Sigalet could very well be a competent and dependable NHL backup. There is also the chance he could spend the duration of his career in the minors.

15. (NR) Brad Marchand, C Age: 18
Acquired: 3rd round, 71st overall (2006) Grade: 6.5C

Marchand was the teammate of Bruins prospect Martins Karsums when he was drafted in 2006. He finished off the 2005-06 season the fourth highest points on the Wildcats with 66 points (29 goals, 37 assists) in 68 games. He had 19 points in 20 playoff games and 4 points in the 5 games of the Memorial Cup tournament. Marchand is on the small side at 5’9, but he’s a fierce competitor who makes up for any size discrepancy with a never-give-up attitude. That high energy game takes a toll on opponents, making Marchand an effective pest, especially as he continues his pursuit of the puck and battles for possession in the corners and along the boards. He was traded to the Val d’Or Foreurs at the end of the year. Since he is a smaller player, his skill, hockey sense and skating are that much more important, and while Marchand has potential, it’s tough to say if he could make it work at the next level.

16. (NR) Vladimir Sobotka, C Age: 19
Acquired: 4th round, 106th overall (2005) Grade: 7.0C

The Bruins’ fourth round pick from the Czech Republic, spent his first full season in the Czech Extraliga 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 has yet to make a major impact 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 attracted some attention when he represented the Czech Republic in the WJC, collecting a total of four points (2 goals, 2 assists) and 33 penalty minutes in six games. With more ice time and experience in the Czech League, and if he continues development on an upward track, Sobotka could be a fine second line player in the NHL. At his best, Sobotka plays an exciting, high energy game that is very promising, but it is still too early in his development to determine if he has what it takes.

17. (13) Matt Hunwick, D Age: 21
Acquired: 7th round, 224th overall (2004) Grade: 6.5C

Often overlooked as a serious candidate for the NHL because of his size, Hunwick is making a case for himself on the Michigan blue line. A smooth, effortless skater with good endurance, he consistently logs 20-25 minutes a game and has the drive and work ethic to take his game to the next level. Hunwick is a responsible player in his own zone, strong in his defensive positioning and decisive in reading his coverage. He demonstrates solid puck control, and is an asset on the powerplay. There is, in fact, very little that he does wrong, and Hunwick appears to have very high expectations for himself. If there’s any downfall to his game it’s that sometimes he takes too much to heart. During the 2005-06 season, Hunwick served as one of the team captains and spent most of his playing time paired with Jack Johnson. He finished off the season with 30 points (11 goals, 19 assists) and 70 penalty minutes in 42 games. Hunwick is not a sure bet for the NHL, but it would be foolish to write off his skill and determination. At worst, he will finish with a solid college career, and at best, he could be a dependable second or third pairing defenseman in the NHL.

18. (18) Wacey Rabbit, C Age: 19
Acquired: 5th round, 154th overall Grade: 6.5C

Rabbit is an intriguing prospect for the Bruins, a speedy offensive talent with a strong upside. Just off his fourth season with the Saskatoon Blades (WHL), the 19-year-old center served as team captain, and completed the 2005-06 season with 56 points (28 goals, 28 assists) and 45 penalty minutes in 64 games. He also had a strong showing in the Blades’ 10 playoff games, where he had 5 goals and 3 assists. Since he can out-skate and outmaneuver most any opponent, Rabbit is a scoring threat every time he’s on the ice. He certainly has the drive and skills to overcome any questions about his size

19. (20) Kris Versteeg, LW Age: 20
Acquired: 5th round, 134th overall Grade: 6.5C

If there’s anything that puts Kris Versteeg ahead of other prospects, it’s his drive and the fearlessness with which he approaches the game. Though he’s still a couple years away from the NHL, and by no means a sure thing to even make the big show, Versteeg has what it takes to prove his detractors wrong. A speedy and agile forward with natural scoring ability, Versteeg has the tools, though at times he still lacks some consistency. He began the 2005-06 the season with the Kamloops Blazers where he played until late October of 2005 when he was traded to the Red Deer Rebels. While in Red Deer, he was given the opportunity to play defense, something that would aid in his overall development as a player. Following the disappointing close of Red Deer’s season, Versteeg was given a tryout contract with the Providence Bruins. While at times he seemed lost in the shuffle, Versteeg jumped in and held his own, drawing penalties from the opposing team and managed 6 points (2 goals, 4 assists), as well as a scoring on a shootout in the 13 games he played.

20. (14) Anton Hedman, LW Age: 20
Acquired: 8th round, 255th overall (2004) Grade: 6.0C

Hedman possesses great size for a forward, with above average skating ability, and he plays with an edge that sets him apart from most other Swedish prospects. Since the 2004 draft, Hedman has filled out to a sturdy 6’3 220lbs. He has quickly established himself as a tough physical player who doesn’t back down and isn’t afraid to deliver a check. He’s a prospect with plenty of potential that still needs to work on his overall game, and like many other physical-style players, he also needs to learn when to use his strength and when to back down. Hedman’s tremendous work ethic and positive attitude make him good teammate and easy to coach. He’s a player who could go either way, but as a late rounder drafted as a relative unknown, Hedman is a low-risk prospect who could bring some muscle and the occasional goal to a future Bruins checking line.

Missing the cut

Mikko Lehtonen 7.0D
Pascal Pelletier 6.5C
Chris Collins 6.5C

The recent signings of former BC Eagle Chris Collins and Gwinnett Gladiator turned Providence Bruin Pascal Pelletier have further strengthened the Bruins’ forward talent. Neither was drafted, but both have had solid performances for their respective teams. Collins is on the small side, but had a solid four-year college career with the Eagles, capped off by a spectacular 2005-06 season his senior year. He finished the regular season with 63 points (34 goals, 29 assists) in 42 games, and was a Hobey Baker top 10 finalist.

Pelletier began the 2005-06 season with the Gwinnett Gladiators (ECHL) where he played 21 games and had a total of 30 points and 18 penalty minutes. He was then promoted to the AHL, where he played 53 games with the Providence Bruins with a total of 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) and 43 penalty minutes.

Mikko Lehtonen is another player who bears watching. The 2005 draftee is a young, raw talent fresh off his first season in Finland’s elite league. Though his performance was far from spectacular, he also played a limited role on the team. Lehtonen may or may not pan out as a prospect, but he’s still got loads of potential, and is due for a breakout year.

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